Each semester, students in the Diplomacy Cohort of the Buccino Leadership Institute choose a book that builds upon the leadership themes taught at the Institute. Reading about practical examples of leadership and different leadership styles enhances the development of skills and helps students succeed in their leadership roles. This semester, students chose to read The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple.
The Gatekeepers highlights the crucial role that the Chief of Staff plays in American governance and the different leadership styles that recent Presidents have employed. While the President is the ultimate decision maker in the United States, the Chief of Staff is the gatekeeper and controls which issues and people make it onto the President's schedule. The office of the Chief of Staff originated during Truman's Presidency with John R. Steelman and has existed, for the most part, in every Presidency since. All Chiefs of Staff up to now have been men and most of them are close friends and supporters of the Presidents that appointed them. They tend to have strong organization and delegation skills as well as the practical knowledge that is required to run the White House. James A. Baker III, from the Reagan and Bush Presidencies, best represents this style. He is credited with setting the standard for streamlined and well-managed Presidencies. Chiefs of Staff are also the people closest to the President during crisis. During 9/11, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and every other major event in recent American history, the Chief of Staff has helped guide the President towards success or failure.
While the book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in American politics, it also addressed the importance of good leaders in management roles. While some Chiefs like Rahm Emmanuel acted as bullies and manipulated the levers of power in Washington D.C. others were fiercely loyal like John Sununu or political allies like Reince Priebus. Each of them has their pros and cons, but studying their styles can help future leaders, even if most people will not become chiefs of staff. The Institute's pillars of Conflict Management and Character are echoed by Chris Whipple throughout the book through discussions about leadership styles and the importance of a well-rounded leader during a crisis.
After reading The Gatekeepers, leadership students met for an online book club discussion using Microsoft Teams. Leaders shared their individual responses to reading the book and the leadership lessons gained through learning about such an impactful leadership position. Students compared the leadership styles of different Chiefs of Staff, discussed the lack of diversity within the role, and highlighted the personal relationship between a President and their Chiefs of Staff. Jarrett Dang, a Junior Diplomacy student, reflected: "The Gatekeepers made me realize that all great leaders must have an equally great support cast. No leader leads alone." Being a leader can be a difficult job especially when millions of people are impacted by the decisions you make each day. Everyone agreed that a strong organizational system where direct honesty is paramount makes for the best management style as a Chief of Staff. The pressure of that job is too great for one person to carry and it is important that the President is not overburdened or left out of the loop. The Institute's students enjoyed The Gatekeepers and recommend it to anyone looking for a fascinating read and interested in building leadership skills.