How Leaders Make Tough Decisions

As a leader, you will often have to make tough decisions. This is one of the biggest challenges of leadership. Some can handle it; others can’t. Regardless, it will define your leadership. You will be judged by others largely on the basis of how well you do under pressure.

Photo of George W. Bush from the Cover of His Book, Decision Points

This morning, I watched Matt Lauer’s interview with former President George W. Bush about his new book, Decision Points. I missed the interview when it aired on Tuesday night, so I was grateful to find a copy online. Despite the fact that the show didn’t do well in the ratings, it is chock-full of leadership lessons, both positive and negative. As a leader, it is worth taking the time to watch the whole thing.

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Whether you loved or hated President Bush, he faced a series of challenges unlike any president in recent history: the terrorist attacks on 9/11; two foreign wars, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq; hurricane Katrina, and an economic meltdown. In the book, he discusses all of these under the rubric of “decision points.”

While I haven’t yet read the book, I gleaned several important lessons about leadership and decision-making from the interview:

  1. You will make mistakes—it’s inevitable. President Bush made several of them. I was struck by how freely he admitted to these. He also didn’t try to minimize them. To think that you are going to lead without making mistakes results in procrastination—something no leader can afford, especially in a crisis. This simply comes with the territory.
  2. You must surround yourself with trusted advisors. You can’t research every aspect of important decisions yourself. At some point you have to depend on the expertise of others. Ultimately, your leadership will stand or fall based on the quality of the advice you receive. Bush made some great decisions here and some unfortunate ones.
  3. You must make decisions with the information available. For leaders, the point of absolute certainty never comes. You will inevitably have to make the call based on the information you have. While you may be unsure, you must act. Pundits may criticize you later, but they have the benefit of hindsight. Leaders don’t have this luxury and must do the best they can with what they have available.
  4. You must take personal responsibility for the outcomes. If you make a mistake, you must own it—even if your advisors gave you bad information. And even if you were acting with the most noble of intentions. If you make a good decision leading to a good outcome, you must give your advisors and others the credit. If you make a bad decision leading to a bad outcome, you alone must take the blame.
  5. You must ignore public opinion when it gets in the way of principle. President Bush had an approval rating above 90% following 9/11. It had plummeted to 30% by the time he left office. In the interview with Matt Lauer, I was struck by how many times he said he didn’t care. Chasing popularity, he noted, is like chasing a vapor. It is here today and gone tomorrow. Instead, you have to make decisions based on principle and let the chips fall where they may.

I can’t wait to read President Bush’s book. In fact, I am hoping to do so this week while I am on vacation. I think biographies are one of the absolute best ways to study leadership.

Question: What leadership lessons did you take away from either the video interview or the book itself? (Please avoid political commentary, as I have tried to do in the post. Whether you agreed or disagreed with President Bush is beside the point.) You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • James Castellano

    The biggest pieces of leadership are integrity and taking responsibility and GW appears to have both pieces.

    • James Castellano

      I just ordered the book on nook for me and in print for my awesome wife. Cant wait to read it.

  • Michael Holmes

    I watched the Tuesday interview and I loved it!

    To see a leader so transparent and open…it was refreshing. Contrary to what the media painted him as…I heard a very wise man in that chair. One who like you said understood the fleeting nature of popularity and was more concerned about a long term view; namely his legacy.

    I do plan to read that book!

  • Lema N

    Great information! I must say point #3 particularly resonates with me. Having been in leadership positions myself, I have learned not to be too harsh in my judgement of people in leadership positions. I love your article … After watching President Bush on Oprah, I also believe he truly did his best. It couldn’t have been easy for anyone. President Obama is doing same. Leaders deserve a lot of respect… not everyone can step up and do what they do.

  • Jim Martin

    Mike, I saw the interview the other night and thought it was a wonderful interview. I thought that Matt Lauer handled this interview particularly well, allowing President Bush the opportunity to talk, clarify, explain without constantly being interrupted (which seems to be the case in other interviews.)

    I think your points are great and would echo these. Something else that came through to me in the interviews is the loneliness of leadership. While he never used that word (that I recall) it was evident to me that regardless of how many advisors, supporters, encouragers that one might have, one has to have a sense of self that can make a decision or take an action because it is right. Skill, intelligence, and popularity are no substitute for the soul of a leader.

    Good post.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jim. I thought Matt did a great job, too. I was really proud of the President for putting himself out there like this. He has subjected himself to numerous interviews like this. Granted, he is trying to sell a book, but still, it takes courage.

      I also appreciated his commitment not to criticize President Obama. I wish all the ex-presidents shared his philosophy.

      • Jim Martin

        I agree with you totally regarding his commitment not to criticize President Obama. I too with these ex-presidents shared this commitment.

        This interview (and the others this week) revealed his transparency and his authenticity in a powerful way. I hope, if nothing else, more people express their gratitude to him for the incredible job he did after 9/11.

  • Brandon

    Sounds like a great book!… I have heard of it, but I have never read any excerpts or anythbing from it.

  • Michael High

    While there were many leadership highlights in the interview, one moment that stood out to me was on parenting. He was recalling a note he had received from his father affirming how he was proud of him. While he acknowledged that he couldn’t read it or he would become too emotional, he teared up even listening to Lauer read it. Years later, the impact of a father’s words of encouragement were noticeable. As parents we have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to speak words of encouragement to our children that will have life-long consequences.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That moment really moved me, too. I had read a couple of excerpts from the book that had to do with notes he had received from his father. They were all touching.

      • Cara Putman

        That and the moment with his mother in the car after her miscarriage. Both very powerful moments on the video. Kept coming back to those, too. And then the video clip of George Bush reaching across Laura at the National Cathedral to touch George W after that pivotal speech post 9-11. Living in DC at that time I remember the import of that time and speech, but had forgotten how touching that small act was.

        • Michael Hyatt

          I was touched by all those, too. I was impressed with his honesty about his emotions. Few leaders are willing to be that vulnerable.

        • Lynette Sowell

          It reminded me of how much our leaders go through personally and emotionally. I found myself tearing up when he talked about his mother, and on 9/11. The weight of responsibility often overshadows those very strong emotions. God bless our leaders and give them wisdom and give them courage to show appropriate vulnerability.

  • Cara Putman

    I too found the videos online yesterday and gleaned much from them. I almost picked up the book yesterday, but will do that later this week. What the interview reinforced for me is the absolute key of a leader doing the best they can and then moving on. We are all human and fallible. That can either paralyze us, or we can choose to do our best based on advisors, information, and prayer. Then we have to move and not linger on a decision that hindsight might illustrate wasn’t ideal.

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  • Laurinda

    I got so much from that interview! #1 – Leadership is TOUGH and it’s not for the faint of heart. #2 President Bush’s quote: “If you chase popularity you are chasing a moment you’re chasing a puff of air”

    I agree with all your points. I admire his ability to stand by his decisions based on the information he had available! Key word is available. Bush said the lowest point of his presidency was when Kayne called him a racist. People forget leaders are people too!

    He didn’t defend himself against Kayne’s comments. Bush did more than any of his predecessors in Africa & aids research. It’s never talked about.

    The decision to not send Federal troops in LA after Katrina was deep. The democratic governor didn’t request them. I would have gone through the same thought process: How would it look if a Republican President sends troops into predominately black area without the Democratic Governors request? Tough question. We don’t know how our actions or inactions affect our leader’s decision.

    When he bailed out Wall Street, a very un-republican act, I didn’t agree. I’m an active black republican. But after he said that his advisers told him that the country would go into a depression – that shocked me. I might have done the same thing. It’s so easy to criticize when looking up at leaders. But until we walk in their shoes, we have no idea the burden they are under. His ability to make that decision even though it wasn’t part of the Republican Philosophy showed great character.

    I can’t wait to read that book!

    • Laurinda

      One last thing: he never criticized the current president. I’m beginning true leaders don’t criticize other leaders!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree with all your comments.

      The most interesting thing about the Kayne comment is that President Bush had one of the most racially diverse cabinets in history: two black Secretaries of States, black National Security Advisor, black Secretary of Education, black Secretary of HUD (then a hispanic), hispanic Attorney General, hispanic Secretary of Commerce, Asian Secretary of Labor, and asian Secretary of Transportation.

      That decision not to send federal troops into Louisiana was way more complex than I imagined.

      It’s easy to judge when you are not walking in the other person’s shoes. That’s why I am eager to read the book to.

  • Lynette Sowell

    Lessons I took away:
    1. If you want to be a leader, don’t do it to be popular or famous or to hear people say how cool they think you are. You don’t lead for personal affirmation.

    2. If you are a leader, keep your main goal/objective in mind. Don’t get sidetracked by other things that can claim your attention. President Bush kept saying,’My role is to protect the American people.” Whether people agree with that or not, he did keep the result in mind.

    3. Leaders don’t lead so they can please everybody. No matter what a leader does, *someone* is going to have an issue with what they do or what they leave undone.

  • Jim Seybert

    To your point about the value of polls – Mr Bush said he didn’t care about the numbers and you agreed that leaders need to ignore the numbers:

    I disagree that leaders should be blind to polls. Here’s why: Leaders need followers. If no one is following you, you’re just a crazy person wandering around all by yourself. Going forward without taking a pulse of how your followers are perceiving your mission is foolhardy on one side and arrogant on the other.

    This is truer in public policy than business because the political leader’s authority to lead comes from the people and if they aren’t behind you – you aren’t leading but rather pulling or bullying.

    Yes – leaders are sometimes called to make unpopular decisions, but the test of their leadership ability is measured in how well they communicate their choices down the line and the proof is in how well they are followed. In that regard, I would say that Mr Bush did not show great leadership in that he forced people to follow him – which is not actually leading.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I don’t think you should ignore your followers. I am only saying that you shouldn’t chase popularity over principle.

      I think Bush’s greatest failure was his communication style. In an age of 24-7 news coverage, you have to speak into the narrative and provide your own interpretation of events. If you don’t, someone else will.

      • Barry Kahan

        President Obama is deemed one of the best communicators and he is now being faulted for not communicating his message. He even alludes to that in his own evaluation. The tough part in today’s 24/7 electronic media, is the dissenting voices are able to have their opinions heard, over and over and over again. President needs to be able to block these out. Opinion polls can be moved by a simple quote or mishap replayed into oblivion.

        I do respect how he does not get into critisizing a sitting President. He understands the job.

        My favorite quote is by Coach John Wooden – ” You do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do.” Seems President Bush felt he was doing the right things. He is doing the same know admitting some of his mistakes.

      • Curtis Marshall

        I would agree that Bush’s greatest problem was in his communication. That is actually what impressed me most about this interview. He was articulate, clear, and likable… but firm and resolute. I wish we could have seen more of that during his presidency.

        My takeaway from the interview was how much I appreciated a president that I didn’t really care for when he was in office. I would even like to read his book! More than opinions, polls, or politics, the American people are searching for strong leadership. The day that a presiding president can admit his mistakes and stand by his decisions on a regular basis will be a great day in the United States of America.

        • Michael Hyatt

          I totally agree. I liked him during his first term but gradually became disillusioned. If only he had been then like he appears to be now. I don’t know if it is because these leaders are afraid they can’t be honest, because people will take advantage of them politically, the media will pile on, or our enemies will use it to their advantage. Regardless, I think the people would rise up and support them.

  • Randall McCathren

    The reason that Bush is ranked last or next to last among US Presidents by historians (right, center and left) is basically his leadership style, i.e., it was characterized by denial, refusal to listen to the substance of those who disagreed, refusal to listen to those within his own administration (e.g., Joint Chiefs of Staff who said it would require 500,000 occupying troops to control Iraq but Cheney/Rumsfeld said this was politically impossible so Bush backed the pols over the Defense professionals), and overall arrogance and hubris. It’s great that he has found some humility and perspective, but it’s a little late for the country considering what a political and financial mess he left (including the financial meltdown and unconscionable deficits) that our children and children’s children will be paying for.
    As far as “integrity and responsibility,” historians agree there was far to little of either evidenced in GW’s leadership as president.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Randall, I specially asked that commenters not be political. Consider yourself warned. I don’t mind you criticizing the way he led, but please avoid the attacking his character or motives.

  • Ryan Bilello

    I am quite pleased to hear Bush talk of not chasing approval. The important thing in leadership is that you have to make decisions based on what you know not because of of the circumstances (they always change).

    Advisors are important as well. It’s good to hear of accountability like that outside the realm of “Christian thinking”.

  • Tommy Lane

    I have always respected George W Bush as a man of integrity and principle. I preordered his book, Decision Points thinking I would get it on release day, but it was shipped on that day, instead. Next time, I will buy a book I’m anxiously waiting for in the store.

    I appreciated the Matt Lauer interview. Much different than the last time I saw Lauer interview him where he appeared to be angry, badgering and disrespectful.

    Great post, Michael.

  • Chris Jeub

    I personally think Pres Bush will be remembered as a man of honest conviction. Because of those character traits, his decisions weren’t too far off the mark.

    A related comment from our friend, Ken Davis, went something like this: “Don’t base your impression on audience response” [sic]. He was explaining comedians shouldn’t rate their success to how much the audience laughs. Just press on, knowing full well that you are called to do so.

    Good, refreshing, and encouraging words for leaders. I’m diving into the book!

  • Stephanie

    Though I have not yet viewed the video or read the book, I was struck by your observation #3. I’ve been reading Andy Stanley’s Next Generation Leader and just finished the chapter on clarity in which he states that leaders must become comfortable with uncertainty and yet still maintain clarity in the direction they are moving. Vision, he says, should be written in ink, but plans in pencil. We will never have all the information we need to make tough decisions, yet knowing our vision can help us to move ahead and make the decision anyway.

  • Dave

    I saw both the interview Monday and on the Today Show. I also saw Sean Hannity’s and Oprah’s interviews. In each, President Bush stressed that he made the decisions he made with the information he had at the time and that his decisions were based on principles, not popularity. He also is steadfast in his resolve not to “be dragged back into the swamp” of Washington politics byweighing-in on the current president or his policies stating “I want to treat him as I wished others would have treated me”.

  • Joy Groblebe

    I thought it was a great interview. One thing I’ll say for President Bush, once he makes a decision, he stays with it. Be it quitting drinking “cold turkey” or deciding to invade Iraq, once the decision was made he didn’t go back on it or second guess himself. He made it very clear, when asked “would you make the same decision again”…there are no do-over’s when you are the President. Same thing in life – there are no do-over’s.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Isn’t that the truth? He has an iron will. The story of his quitting drinking were remarkable.

  • Charles Stewart Flemming

    One of my favorite Lincoln biographies is one by David Herbert Donald. I loved his (rare) perspective on the need to evaluate a President’s decisions based on available information.

    In his forward to the book, Professor Donald told of visiting John F. Kennedy at the White House:

    The only time I ever met President John F. Kennedy, in February 1962, he was unhappy with historians. A group of scholars had been in the Oval Office hoping to enlist him in a poll that ranked American presidents. I was not one of those visitors, but the next day when I gave a talk in the White House about Abraham Lincoln, the subject was much on his mind. He voiced his deep dissatisfaction with the glib way the historians had rated some of his predecessors, as “Below Average” and marked a few as “Failures.” Thinking, no doubt, of how his own administration would look in the backward glance of history, he resented the whole process. With real feeling he said, “No one has a right to grade a President—not even poor James Buchanan—who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made his decisions.”

  • Tim Milburn

    Excellent summation of the interview Michael. Life is full of teachable moments if we’ll just take the time to reflect and learn from both our successes and failures (and those of others).

    One thing I’m thinking about is the legacy that President Bush is leaving. Simply leaving office doesn’t end his ability to shape his legacy. Coming out with his book and doing these interviews is another step in his journey, continuing to shape his story and people’s perceptions of him. A legacy is what you leave when you leave. As we’ve seen with most past Presidents, their legacy continues to evolve even after they’ve left office.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think he has a lot of life ahead of him. He may have a greater impact in his latter years. He has certainly been tested by fire.

  • Gary

    I learn most by watching those in my organization who are the real decision makers. I follow what they say, how they say it, and then monitor the outcome and their response to that in relation to their decision.

    I have been lucky to work with some very good leaders. I have also had the privilege to work with some not so good leaders. You can learn from both.

    Former Presidents are great ways to learn. While we don’t know all the behind the scenes discussions, you can hear the decision and monitor the outcome. Then when they become “former” presidents you can get an idea of how those decisions where made, which ones caused them the most angst. I too can’t wait to read this book.

  • Mark McKeen

    It seems that there is an underlying theme woven into these principles: Leaders must be humble. No one wants to follow a proud person–even if they have reason to be proud. Humility is a mark of true leadership. Along those lines, moral character is the only motivation to follow one’s example.

  • Amy

    I just put the book in my Kindle wish list yesterday. Thanks for the link to the interview.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Amazingly, the hardcover is $35.00. The Kindle book is $9.99. Quite a difference.

  • John Young

    Mike I’m still preoccupied with the TV ratings vs book sales. The heavily promoted prime time event was so poorly watched that by comparison a dismal comedy called Chuck that NBC used to run in the same time period, had higher ratings every episode. Yep, most preferred Dancing with the Stars! But Amazon,, and Borders continue tracking the President’s book as #1 just in presell orders. Low interest (tv) vs High interest (readers/fans). It seems more and more we have a world where those who agree, agree, and those who don’t won’t listen very well anyway. With so many thinking they know everything, a leader needs loyal followers. Fred Smith launched Fedex at a time when his inheritance was exceeded by superb blind loyalty from employees who didn’t question but marched! That’s a hard culture to find very often today.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You’re sure right about that, John.

      It is troubling that more people didn’t tune into the show. Neil Postman wrote about this two decades ago in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death.” We have created an entertainment culture that places little value on informed opinion.

  • Jeremiah Nelson

    I like that President Bush found strength in family. Good leaders seem to have great support from their family, and find their inspiration from it.
    I also like that the President didn’t let Matt Lauer lure him into a back-and-forth about the waterboarding. He simply pointed out that his choice was to save many lives, and left it at that. I sometimes have to do this kind of thing with people who call 911 (not torture, but keeping them from leading me into an endless argument).

    • Michael Hyatt

      I like how he handled that, too. Really smart.

  • Pat

    I think you hit all the biggies.

  • Doug Smith

    I’ve seen excerpts of the Matt Lauer interview and saw thirty minutes or so of Sean Hannity’s interview with W last night. But one of the insights I’ve found most interesting was from an on-line article today in the Daily Beast by Mark McKinnon:

    “The book does highlight, however, a fundamental difference between George Bush and Barack Obama. Bush never complains. He never blames others. He takes full responsibility for his campaigns, his administration, his life. He accepts the cards he’s dealt. That’s the George Bush I know.

    “When we were up to our knees in the snows of New Hampshire and got whipped by John McCain by 19 points, my advertising colleague Stuart Stevens started packing his bags. I asked what he was doing. “We’re going to be fired,” he said speaking from the experience of someone who had been in previous presidential campaigns when things went south. But Bush called us all into his room, looked us all in the eye, and said, “When we walk out of here and the defeat we’ve just been dealt, I want all your heads high. This is not your fault. It’s mine alone. I let you down, and I apologize.” And then he went out and gave a speech that Reagan’s speechwriter Peggy Noonan told me looked like a victory speech if you turned the sound off. In contrast, when I saw John Kerry after the 2004 campaign (ironically in Paris), he said to me, “You guys did a really good job, and my team really $%&#$ it up.” Amazing he would think that. Incredible he would say it. Astonishing he would say it to me.”

  • ThatGuyKC

    I haven’t had a chance to watch the interview yet, but I plan to.

    Thank you for the politically neutral sharing of leadership lessons from President Bush. I agree he wasn’t perfect, but your respectful tone and candid assessment of his responsibility and integrity was refreshing.

    Looking forward to your review of the book.

  • Jeff Denton

    One of the key leadership points I’ve picked up from the interviews I’ve watched of President Bush over the last couple days is how he is defining his presidency as a season of his life. He said his life is much broader than the years he’s spend in politics. I believe this perspective is what has allowed him to make decisions outside the scope of polls and pundints. He’s been able to make decisions based on principles, character, ethics and morals.

    Additionally, I’m reminded that (a) leaders, including presidents, are more complex {and real} than political parties, the media, different groups within a church, or anyone who doesn’t like a particular leader make them out to be, and (b) there’s much more going on behind the scenes {about which we are clueless} when leaders makes decisions. It’s part of why I pray for our presidents and other leaders – no matter whether I personally like (or voted for) those leaders or not.

    Thanks Michael for prompting a great discussion and sharing of lessons.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s so true, Jeff. The media like to create a caricature of all leaders (even Barack Obama). People and situations are often more complex than sound bites can convey.

  • Brent


    This may tie in with #4, and maybe #1 ( maybe i don’t know where this fits!)
    I think there is a fine line between accepting personal responsibility for outcomes, and allowing yourself to become imprisoned by the opinions of others.

    Leaders are going to make some poor decisions. Some “poorer” than others. Some people will forgive you, some will not. Some will hold you accountable (good thing), some will hold you prisoner (bad thing).

    It’s important we take responsibility for our decisions and reasonably righting a wrong. Leaders should not become encumbered with convincing the jail-keepers they should forgive us.


    • Michael Hyatt

      Totally agree. I think President Bush has the right balance.

  • Betsy Cratch

    FOXNews has interviews w/President George W. Bush all this week, prime time. Last night he was on O’Reilly, then Hannity showed footage taken from a recent visit to Crawford ranch. GWB was candid, sincere, friendly, relaxed, honest. There will be more this week, especially this weekend.

  • Cyberquill

    Former British PM Tony Blair was on Letterman the other day. He recounted an incident where communications were lost to a wayward commercial jetliner approaching London, and he had to make a speedy decision on whether to give orders to shoot it down. He chose to wait a few more minutes, communications were restored, and everything turned out well.

    President Bush is on for a series of interviews this week, one of them with Bill O’Reilly. That should be a lively encounter.

  • Jeremy Morgan

    Thank you for the thoughtful post Michael. I am intrigued by #2. While the importance of having trusted advisors in place is paramount, I wonder what sorts of measures one can put into place to prevent creating an overly homogeneous group of people and producing an idea vacuum of sorts. As I become more of a leader in my organization, I struggle with knowing how to surround myself with trusted people yet ensure that I don’t “trust” them only because they already see things the way I do. I want to develop the wisdom to include those that see thing differently or who solve problems differently than I do into that group of trusted advisors, but it can be difficult.

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  • NanaHG

    I’m listening to it on audio right now and have found it very engaging. The story ebbs and flows, keeps you interested by moving backwards and foward in time and sort of feels as if you are sitting in the room with President Bush as he reminisces. So far what jumps out at me is that it makes him feel like a *real* person. I know I respond better to leaders who I can relate to – even if it’s through knowing they are human and make mistakes just like you and I.

  • Jack Heimbigner

    Im impressed by how he took responsibility for the things that happened. That he wouldn’t back down because he made a mistake but look to move forward, not for people to forget but to make things right.

  • Olga Griffin

    Thank you for posting the main points from the interview. I especially liked the ones regarding ignoring public opinions and taking responsibility for the outcomes. These are good for me and for our nation to learn, because we tend to want to blame others in order to make ourselves look better.

  • Gina Hawkins

    I watched both the Oprah and the Today Show interviews. In both of these instances, I thought how honorable he seemed. I think he is a man with great integrity. He has publicly stated that he wants to treat the current President in a way that he wished he had be treated. As a leader, you want to always strive to make decisions with integrity.

  • Brooke

    Be honest and be yourself. Sounds simple, but many leaders have trouble doing it.

  • Christopher Scott

    Like many other great leaders, George W. attributes his character and leadership back to his mom. He says she taught him to be trusted, to have character, and she gave him a philosophy on life.

    I remember reading a leadership book a few months back where the author cited several great leaders attributing their character and leadership ability back to the relationship they had with their mother.

    Here’s a principle: mom’s raise great leaders!

  • Angela

    My husband and I watched the Hannity interview last night. I was impressed with Mr. Bush’s wisdom on relaxing other world leaders in the outdoors to get to know them before sitting down at negotiations. How wise! I’ve long felt he was a great leader and believe he, by listening to God, pulled us through incredibly difficult crises. We have the Matt Lauer interview taped to watch. But the Hannity interview caused very long, interesting conversation between us. My husband owns his company while I am a speaker and writer. We both completely understood what our past president meant by making the best decision with the information you have at the time and that sometimes there’s the best of the worst only. When you’re deciding between saving thousands and saving hundreds, the best of the worst is a heavy burden to carry. Being a leader means thinking globally (big picture) not worldy (what will everyone think). Being a leader means you are willing to carry those heavy burdens as a sacrifice to those you serve and lead. I’m fascinated by what I’m learning from our past president.

  • Kayla

    I enjoyed the interview because it showed what many people missed seeing while President Bush was in office – the kindness, strength and integrity of that man. I loved how candid he was and the level of openness he portrayed while also holding himself to certain standards even regarding that (such as when he discussed his mother’s miscarriage and how he only put it in the book with her permission). I felt his pain when he talked about some of the mistakes that me made and truly believe that the mistakes weren’t made out of spite or with an intention to hurt the American people. His love for his country was evident, especially in the number of times he said that it was an honor to serve as president. Many people would see it as an office of celebrity, but he became a servant to the people.

  • Barry Kahan

    I watched the interview and came away with similar thoughts. The one big point that struck me…how big of a job being the President really is. Opinion polls are based on such superficial information.

    So easy to coach from “behind the fence” then on the field.

    Book is on my wish list on Amazon. Will be reading soon.

  • Ken Davis

    Great post. I am getting this book and looking forward to reading it.

  • Juan

    I am trying to look at the positive side of the way Bush managed things when whe he was president, however it is difficult when after the fact he says he made mistakes, but why while he was in the president position he barely spoke with the public, with the people that put him on the position of power, he just did not come clean and plain and accept the way things were, his recourse was to hide the facts as long as him and his team could, one example is the economy crisis. He still will be remembered as the worst president ever in our history.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I have to respectfully disagree. I got frustrated with him, too. But he had challenges that most of us cannot comprehend. I would encourage you to read his book. I am only two chapters into it, but it gives you the stuff that was not reported in the press.

      • James Castellano

        I am/ was a solid supporter of President Bush, but started to get disappointed at the end. So far I am three chapters into the book and seeing a much different picture than I previously perceived.

  • T. Nicholson

    Mr. Hyatt,

    This is an excellent piece you wrote! I absolutely agree with the points you mentioned. I would not be ideological pure if I didn’t comment on the decison that made me cringe the most from President Bush. The decison to sign TARP to bailout the Wall Street “boys” bothered me the most and still does. Hard earned taxpayer dollars should NEVER be used to reward irresponsible behavior from ANY business. Businesses succeed and fail by making those TOUGH decisions you mention.

    I own a small business in the healthcare industry no less and I feel quite sure that a “bailout” would not be headed in my direction if and when the new healthcare law gets implemented fully.

    What most people do not realize is that quantitative easing is only pushing a problem off to the next generation and so on. No president wants to face the ramifications of what will happen when and if we ever get a leader who agrees that by injecting fiat money into our economy is not only criminal behavior, but it will eventually have to be paid back at some point. There is no way around the pain that will eventually come from this irresponsible behavior from the Federal Reserve Chairman we have now and the previous ones. We just have to sit back and wait to see if we ever get a leader who will help us take back our republic and help release us from the bondage we are in to another country for many years to come.

    Again, your article is very well written.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I disagreed with that as well. It was interesting to hear his rationale. I think he is still not quite comfortable with it. As a culture, we have a difficult time accepting pain. We tend to push it off to the next generation. As someone said, “we have privatized profits and socialized losses.” It’s a broken system that we need to fix.

  • Daniel Decker

    I was impressed with GW’s confidence and his adherence to what he felt was the right thing to do (his beliefs). The confidence of a leader and their resolve mean a lot.

  • Kingsly

    Great Lessons!! Making Decisions is really tough but then i think these lesson must help.
    “biographies are one of the absolute best ways to study leadership” and i agree with this completely.

  • Jim Legington

    Great Post, I watched the Interview several time myself, Former President
    George W. Bush shared some points with Matt In that Interview that will
    be a treasure for many to grasp the courage. That love that he mentioned
    between he and his Dad, that is a teasure in and of itself and awesome
    relationship with his Mother. When all is said and done, this book is
    one that I must read. “Decision Points” the Interview about the book
    is a treasure for Parenting as we will soon discover I believe.
    Brethren, the love of Christ – Amazing Grace – Blessed Is the
    nation whose God Is the LORD. PSALM 33:11-12

  • Jim Taggart

    I find it quite intriguing that GW Bush’s interview inspired you to create this list. Last week the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a superb two-hour documentary on the Bush years. Numerous individuals were interviewed, encompassing both those who worked directly and indirectly for President GW Bush. One such individual was Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretery of State (he and Colin Powell later resigned because of the division in the Bush cabinet with Cheney and Rumsfelt). As Armitage explained, you need three necessary factors to be a good leader (along with other factors):

    1) VISION

    On vision, Bush indeed had one when it came to invading Iraq – expanding democracy in the Middle east.

    On accountability, he was an abject failure since no one was held accountable for the horrendous mistakes made.

    And on executiuon, again he failed when it came to securing Iraq post-invasion and its governing.

    As for me, I’ll take a pass on GW’s new book. Lots more compelling stuff to read out there….Jim

  • Anthony Marrero

    I was struck by his sense of integrity . His ability to get beyond the noise and make decisions based on the root issues regardless of the rhetoric is something that I admire. I may not have agreed with all his decisions but I never doubted that his reasoning had anything to do with popularity. It was simply what he felt was the best decision at the time.

  • Sheryl Bullock

    I found his explanation of the Katrina situation to be very enlightening. I never understood the complexity at that moment between state government and federal government. Because he’s been a governor and then a president, he understood both roles. I was glad he had the chance to explain why this didn’t go well. There were very understandable reasons for the delay in help. However, as leaders we don’t always get to give people all the facts behind our decisions. At the time he didn’t malign the leadership in Louisiana and he really didn’t during the interview either. He just explained why it didn’t go well. Sometimes you don’t get to explain your actions fully until later down the road. It took restraint and maturity for him to withhold blame and frustration from his comments. Again, this to me said that he wasn’t interested in popularity.

    I also liked that he sees politics as just a chapter in his life. This is a true sign of balance. He doesn’t have to be in the limelight to feel he has valuable contributions, whether great or small, to make over the course of his lifetime.

  • Brett

    President Bush made significant changes in his life at/after 40 years of age. As one who turned 40 this year, it’s encouraging to think that a lot of change can still take place in my life.

    Application: Leaders keep growing and are lifelong learners. Leaders keep working on personal change instead of settling into a “this is just who I am” mindset, a mindset I find increasingly tempting the older I get.

  • Brett

    Regarding #5, if a person keeps saying over and over that they don’t care, you begin to think that perhaps they do care. One of the things I believe Bush did well during his Presidency is govern by principles rather than polls. It appears to me he was guided more by his moral compass (“doing the right thing”) rather than worry what people would think. Yet, the fact that he was so emotional about what one pop star said about him (basically calling him a racist) made me realize that at some point or another all of us, no matter how much we say we don’t care what people think about us, do indeed care.

  • Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage

    You must have the courage of your convictions and resist pressure to deviate from your core values.

  • Maranda Gibson

    I am also very excited to read Decision Points.

    In reference to #3 — I think that there’s never been a more true statement about leadership. When you’re a leader you have to make the tough decisions, and in a position like this with a lot of power and responsibility, you have to rely on what you’re told. Great leaders have great teams.

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  • http:/ Patrick

    I truly think that those who spent the first eight years of the decade criticizing President Bush made more inroads toward damaging the office of the President than damaging the man.

    Bush did many things poorly as President, but not as many, nor as poorly, as the media would have us believe.

    When I face a tough decision, it helps me to look back on tough times I have faced in the past. George W. Bush had faced tough times as a businessman and as an alcoholic. I believe these trials colored his presidency.

    The bumps in the road define us.

    If you want to see some examples of how other folks faced adversity, overcame and redefined their lives, please check out the latest post at my new blog, Think. Tank.

  • Gini Dietrich

    I thought it was interesting that he said he’s been lying low the past two years to stay out of the spotlight. You can’t blame a man, who was on the hot seat for eight years, to want to do that. I also thought it was interesting that he talked about trusting his advisors, yet so many times ignored them. We have to surround ourselves with smart people and actually listen to what they have to say.

    Since becoming a leader in my own business, I have no patience for pundits or even friends who sit on their soapboxes and act as if they could have made better decisions with the same information. To your point, hindsight is 20/20. We have to make decisions on the fly and, sometimes, we don’t have all of the information. But you’re right, we can’t be paralyzed by it, either.

    Those who live in glass houses…

  • Jody Urquhart

    It does sound like a good book
    As a leader, whenever he spoke- it always seemed like Bush was saying what he was supposed to say or what people wanted to hear.He didnt seem to stand behind what he said with any sense of conviction.

    Obama on the other hand always has a compelling presence.
    is it just good public speaking skills or deeper beleifs and values shining through? Likely a combination of both.

  • Toby

    It was indeed the first time I seen the man as human. A great interview showing he is just a man, and a man who was in charge of making numerous difficult and sometimes heart-wrenching decisions.

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  • Jennifer Fulwiler

    I’ve had this post up in my browser for a couple of weeks to read and re-read. What an excellent distillation of the lessons from this book! Thank you for another helpful post.

    Also, I’m reading a fascinating book right and and immediately thought of you because it’s been a goldmine for me in terms of thoughts on leadership. It’s the biography of Mother Angelica, founder of the EWTN television network. You can find it here: It’s the stunning story of how a cloistered, Poor Clare nun got an inspiration to start a television network, despite the fact that she had $200 in the bank and zero experience with television. It’s full of jaw-dropping insights about what it means to be a leader despite turmoil within and outside of your organization, and how you work trust God into all your decisions. With your interest in leadership, I think you’ll love it.

    Anyway, keep up the great work!

  • Jalyn

    Thank you for the link to the interview. It reinforced many concepts about leadership that I held to be true. I respect Mr. Busch’s ability to remain focused and unmoved by the hatred and disapproval that many persons had for him. I am reminded of a passage of scripture which my pastor – a powerful leader – has reminded her senior leadership team of on a few occasions. It is Genesis 49:23-24, speaking of Joseph.

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  • W. Mark Thompson

    Interesting statement: “This is one of the biggest challenges of leadership. Some can handle it;
    others can’t.” Assuming leadership is something that can be developed to the point of becoming a strength, I believe these challenges are something that can be conquered. It is definitely an on-the-job training experience. There’s only so much you can simulate. But it’s also true, the character of that decision maker will shine through when the decisions prove to be the wrong one(s). Seems to be a building process. Good post. Thought provoking.

  • W. Mark Thompson

    Came back to this post as we come up on the 9-11 anniversary. I had family in tower 2 of the World Trade Center. Wrote a personal post about it here:

    Hope this is not inappropriate. Delete if it is.
    Hopefully it can help while we reflect and pray for those affected 10 years ago.


  • marek

     Thanks! Nice post. I found it while writing The art of making right decisions. I think the key is to make all decisions while you calm, without emotions, otherwise you might regret them.

  • Jim Huntington

    Having to make many decisions daily, and of course everyone else knows what my decision should be. I would appreciate an objective guide to help be sure that decisions are approproiatly thought through without procrastinating. Need al the help I can get.