Lessons in Leadership with Andy Card

5 P’s of discipline, call for world leadership on pandemic, democracy and contested election insight from the former Oval Office insider

In this recent Natixis Access Series video talk, former White House insider Andy Card shares his insight on leadership skills, global coordination to confront COVID-19, contested elections, and democracy’s road ahead.

Andy is probably best known for serving as Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush for over 5 years, the second longest-tenured Chief of Staff in history. He also served as Deputy Chief of Staff and later as a Secretary of Transportation for President George H.W. Bush. He also served in the administration of President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1988, including as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. Andy got his start in politics at the state level in Massachusetts. He served in the Navy and has worked in the private sector, notably in the automotive and transportation industries, and currently serves as Chairman for the National Endowment for Democracy and interim CEO of the George and Barbara Bush Foundation, so he truly has a broad perspective to share on the topic of leadership.

Here are some highlights from his talk with Ted Meyer, SVP, Global PR & Communications at Natixis Investment Managers.

You’ve had the opportunity to work with many leaders at all levels of government, including three US presidents. But you’ve also had critical leadership roles yourself. Could you talk about your leadership style?

Andy Card: I tend to be an inclusive leader rather than an exclusive leader. Which means I know that I don’t have all the answers. I try to invite other people to offer the answers and provide some leadership themselves.

I had what I call “the discipline of the P’s” when it came to policy. The first was what underlying principle that this administration believes in does your policy fit within? Is it free trade? Is it healthcare? Where does it fit? The second was “What people will be impacted by the policy?” Why is this affecting them? Why is it the right thing to do? Then, what partners are there out there that we can find that will recognize it’s the right policy and become a partner in getting the policy, even though they may not be directly impacted by it? Next was “What process did you go through to develop the policy?” Was it inclusive or was it exclusive? And finally, is this a policy decision that the president makes because it is a presidential decision? Or is it just a government decision?

When it comes to leadership, I find listening and learning and empowering are more important than standing on the stage yourself with a spotlight shining on you.

You served under Presidents Reagan and both Bushes. Can you compare their leadership styles and describe what you learned from them?

Andy Card: Ronald Reagan was a big-picture decision maker and a storyteller. He was very good at communicating and was a great listener. And he had the ability to take a tricky policy and translate it into a dialogue that the public could understand. But he didn’t get down in the weeds. He just wanted to know when things would happen and what it would mean.

George H.W. Bush was remarkable in that he had a breadth of experiences that caused him to be truly diplomatic. He was always inviting other people to offer their opinions even when he knew that he would disagree with the opinion. So he was very inclusive and much more about the people who were talking to him than him talking to them.

George W. Bush was the first president who had an MBA, and he really did follow a lot of the discipline he got out of going to Harvard Business School. And so, it was kind of a joy to watch him because he could tell you, “This is what I need to be able to make this decision.” So I could help him get what he needed. He was a little more animated and more emotionally engaged in the decision-making process, whereas his dad was a little bit clinical. So they all had very different styles.

How do you think the US is responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

Andy Card: I don’t think President Trump responded as well as he should have to the pandemic. I think he did a lot of things right. I don’t think that he was predisposed to accept the advice and counsel that he was getting, because he’s predisposed to accept his own advice and counsel first. He usually makes a decision before he solicits input, and then he tries to see if the input complements his decision. So I think he’s a little bit flawed in his decision-making process.

I also don’t think we have demonstrated world leadership in the pandemic. So I am not pleased with how we have attacked everything. I don’t say all of the marks are F’s. There are probably a few A’s, a few B’s, a few C’s. But I think there are more D’s and F’s than we should have had in the last many months. And I’m convinced other waves are coming. So this is a work in progress.

You need to find out who the experts are if you are working in the White House; invite those experts to give unvarnished counsel; challenge them; let them challenge you; and then make decisions that you feel comfortable sharing with the experts before you share them with the public. Truthfulness is critically important. And it doesn’t mean that you have to be right all the time. But you have to have a reputation for trying to be right all the time.

What might happen if the results of the presidential election are contested?

Andy Card: Generally, I think our ballot systems are secure and appropriate and should be the envy of the world. After all, if we’re the greatest democracy, we should be able to practice our democracy in confidence. So I don’t think the election is going to be stolen. I think that the secretaries of state, who are the election officials in every state, are really motivated to make sure the vote is right and honest.

I do think Donald Trump will probably lose the popular vote, even if he wins the Electoral College vote, because the popular vote is a function of population, and populations are on the east and west coasts. And the center of the country doesn’t have much population, but that’s where a lot of Electoral College votes are. I support the Electoral College system. If we didn’t have the Electoral College, we probably wouldn’t have a Constitution because that’s how our Constitution was put in place.

This will be a controversial election no matter what happens. I do believe that it’s important to have a Supreme Court in place that can make a decision should they have to. Obviously, I worked for a president who was elected president by a decision by the Supreme Court. I have confidence in the Supreme Court no matter who serves on it. And I know the president is the president until he’s no longer the president, so I believe he has a right to name someone to the Supreme Court.

For the full conversation, including Card’s firsthand account of September 11, 2001, be sure to watch the webinar replay video above.
This material is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as investment advice.

Unless otherwise noted, the opinions of the authors provided are not necessarily those of Natixis Investment Managers. The experts are not employed by Natixis Investment Managers but may receive compensation for their services. The views and opinions are as of September 23, 2020 and may change based on market and other conditions.