A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership
Author: James Comey (wiki link). Publishing year: 2018.
James Comey is the former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This is a personal memoir of his career that ended when he was removed from office by president Donald Trump. The story is framed by Comey’s deepest and honest beliefs of loyalty and leadership.
The Life of Lies
The book starts with Comey’s encounter with mafia life when he was Assistant US attorney. We can read a few details and insights into the real aspects of this job. Comey’s talent as a narrator is clear from the beginning. The story goes straight to the point, keeping sufficient details to draw an entertaining story, without embellishing it unnecessary. The reader understands exactly what the situation is:
“The life of lies. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. Loyalty oaths. An us-versus them world view. Lying about things, large and small, in service to some warped code of loyalty. These rules and standards were hallmarks of the Mafia, but throughout my career I’d be surprised how often I’d find them applied outside of it.”
Later in his career, Comey becomes a federal prosecutor. His experiences widen in this new job. He sees crime as more mundane than most of us:
“Evil has an ordinary face. It laughs, it cries, it deflects, it rationalizes, it makes great pasta.”
Comey comes back to the subject of lying over and over in his story. He points out how easy some lies are. Even more, how everybody lies at some point. And how some lies are inconsequential, except for habituation:
“The easy, casual lies – those are a very dangerous thing. They open up the path to the bigger lies, in more important places, where the consequences aren’t so harmless.”
His career is peppered with interesting stories. For example, he tells us about the Stellar Wind program. Or his own fight with The White House staff. Furthermore, he tells us about mistakes made by legal departments in advising how to make surveillance and interrogation.
He is also going to touch on the delicate issue of torture. We can read his opinion and insight on how the american government handled the issue of interrogation via torture. Even more, we can read about the scandal that ensued when the public found out about it.
We can already understand his principles: his Higher Loyalty is to truth and his own values.
Comey is named FBI director under Obama administration. While in office, he sets the way to leadership as he sees it. This is another important theme in his book: what he considers a good leader. His ideas and examples are present throughout the book and we can see his struggles to hold himself up to those high standards:
“Good leaders constantly worry about their limited ability to see. To rise above those limitations, good leaders exercise judgement, which is a different thing from intelligence.”
In the last chapters we can read how he is fired by president Donald Trump. This is turning out to be a very difficult time for him. He is faced with life changing reexamination of his career so far and his core values.
The book is honest and open. Comey does not try to picture himself in bright colors. He emphasizes his fallibility and humanity. He tells us an honest story with lows and highs. Even more, he tells us the very personal story of how he lost a son.
This book is about one man’s view on ethical leadership and the very difficult circumstances that ended his career.
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