Walking in my university’s library I came across the book whose spine read: Honest Always Walks Alone. I pulled it from the shelf and flipped its pages. I was thinking about my grandfather, and all the ethical people I knew in my small world: Gandhi, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Mandella. People who had taught me to do the right thing in life. People who urged me to be truthful and who hoped that I would not deal in lies. People who demanded that I be just. People who wished that I make decisions in this life thinking not just about myself, but also about those around me. See, I have been raised like that. When my cousins would visit my home during summer vacation, my home would become their home. My cousins would become the immigrants who’d take my place in the family, they’ll become the centre of attraction—the new hot THING, they’ll get all their wishes fulfilled, they’ll have the ownership of the remote of the television, they’ll sleep on my bed, and they’ll get a pardon for the crimes for which I own slap receipts. At the tender age of eight, I knew what the immigrant crisis was like. I was young, naive, and insecure. So one day, I asked my father, why is it like that? And he brushed my hair, and with his ever endearing eyes told me: they must feel belonged. Don’t worry, just because we love your cousins when they are here, doesn’t mean that we love you any less. You should join us and help us make them feel at home, your home, their home. That was the right thing to do, even though I knew it wasn’t the easy one. This was one of the most profound lessons of my early life. My father taught me that there was virtue in being secure. And that it wasn’t for the faint-hearted. There is a higher loyalty that you have with this universe. It’s bigger than your personal loyalties. The loyalty that asks you to always be just and truthful, seldom bothering of the consequences.
When I came across A Higher Loyalty, I don’t even remember how and when did I came across this book—it’s been living in my kindle unread and rent-free for over two years, I knew this was something I want to read. I had no clue who the author was or what was this book exactly about. When I read it, I found out that this book was exactly what I had hoped it to be, even better. It contains political drama, therefore it is only reasonable to assume that it’s going to get polarized reactions. But I promise to you that if you suspend your disbelief for the political ideology and just listen to the man talking about leadership, you’ll reward yourself with the gains of a lifetime that has thought, preached, and practised ethical leadership (I know you might not agree on the practice part, and that’s all right).
James Comey was the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, appointed by President Barrack Hussein Obama. A lawyer by profession, he had served as the U.S. Deputy Attorney General in the presidency of George Walker Bush. And he was fired from the FBI in little less than four months after President Donald John Trump assumed the presidency. Apart from being the memoir of a man who had been with the government for most of his life, this book is also a take on the kind of leadership he had seen and observed during his career. He gives you the view of the oval office from his lens under the three presidents, and that was my favourite part of the book.
It’s a gripping read, the book starts rather unusually, with his encounters with Mafia. Although this part is interesting, it leaves you wondering why would he want to talk about Mafia at the beginning of his book on leadership. Not a great example, right? He tells you about La Cosa Nostra—how one gets membership in “this thing of ours”. The life that deals with lies, with the boss in complete control, loyalty oaths, us-versus-them worldview. A life that is about lying about things, large and small, in service of some wrapped code of loyalty. And then to settle the curiosity he explains, that as much as he wanted to believe that this exists only inside the life of the Mafia, he was wrong. Much of it is applied outside of the Mafia too. And sometimes, they become our Presidents.
This book is also about bullies. I don’t know who Benjamin Disraeli is but he said: Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke. Mafia members may dress and talk in distinctive ways, but they are part of a fairly common species—the bully. All bullies are largely the same. They threaten the weak to feed their insecurity. And bullies are all around us, sometimes it’s our elder sibling, sometimes our coworker, sometimes our neighbour, sometimes it’s our boss, but the worst is when the bully is your President. Why? Because bullies are insecure. And insecure people cannot listen and they cannot laugh. And those who cannot listen and laugh cannot be trusted to run a country. I believe only those who do not have anything to say and anything to laugh upon would think otherwise.
“We all have a tendency to surrender our moral authority to “the group”, to still our own voices and assume the group will handle whatever difficult issue we face. We imagine that the group is making thoughtful decisions, and if the crowd is moving in a certain direction, we follow as if the group is some moral entity larger than ourselves. In the face of the herd, our tendency is to go quiet and let the group’s brain and soul handle things. Of course, the group has no brain or soul separate from each of ours. But by imagining that the group has these centres, we abdicate responsibility, which allows all groups to be hijacked by the loudest voice, the person who knows how brainless groups really are and uses that to this advantage.”
This book, therefore, is about leadership.
“We would teach that great leaders are
(1) people of integrity and decency;
(2) confident enough to be humble;
(3) both kind and tough;
(4) transparent; and
(5) aware that we all seek meaning in work. We would teach them that
(6) what they say is important, but what they do is far more important, because their people are always watching them.
In short, we would demand and develop ethical leaders.”
“A sense of humour, in particular, strikes me as an important indicator—or “tell”—about someone’s ego. Having a balance of confidence and humility is essential to effective leadership. Laughing in a genuine way requires a certain level of confidence because we all look a little silly laughing; that makes us vulnerable, a state insecure people fear. And laughing is also frequently an appreciation of others, who have said something that is funny. That is, you didn’t say it, and by laughing you acknowledge the other, something else insecure people can’t do.”
“There are people in your lives called ‘loved ones’ because you are supposed to love them.” In our work, I warned, there is a disease called “get-back-itis.” That is, you may tell yourself, “I am trying to protect a country, so I will get back to” my spouse, my kids, my parents, my siblings, my friends. “There is no getting back,” I said. “In this line of work, you will learn that bad things happen to good people. You will turn to get back and they will be gone. I order you to love somebody. It’s the right thing to do and it’s also good for you.”
Tired people tend not to have the best judgement. And that is not as hard as you may think, I added with a smile. “You can multitask. You can sleep with people you love. In appropriate circumstances.”
I recommend this book to those who are interested in ethical leadership, working in the FBI (briefly covered), and U.S. Politics.
“My efforts at life-plagiarism has been imperfect, but the lessons were priceless.”