The former FBI director spoke about the core values of leadership as part of the RCLA Town Hall Lecture Series at the Van Wezel.
What makes an effective leader can be summed up in two points: someone who is kind and tough while also confident and humble.
At least, that’s what former FBI Director James Comey said during the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture Series at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Monday.
After being dismissed from his role as Director of FBI in May 2017, Comey said he wasn’t sure what to do next — he was numb.
But, after a few days, his wife Patrice asked what comes next. It was then Comey decided he could contribute a view of what leadership can and should be.
A leader, he said, is someone who never asks for loyalty.
One of the best leaders Comey said he could think of is former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who always made sure his employees had what they needed before he did.
“Mattis led the United States Marines for 40 years. I guarantee he never asked anyone for loyalty,” Comey said. “I met with President Trump at the end of his first week as president … he looked across the table at me and he said, ‘I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.’”
It was in that moment, Comey said he realized that Trump didn’t care about the separation the American people have wanted between the FBI and the presidency since Watergate.
A leader, he said, is someone who is comfortable enough to “shut up and listen” and take joy in the successes of his or her own people.
The best and worst examples of this, he said, come in the form of the last two presidents.
President Barack Obama, he said, was a great listener because at every meeting he came out from behind his desk, sat facing the speaker and held all of his questions until the speaker was finished.
Trump, he said, sits behind his desk and frequently interrupts. This type of attitude, Comey said, makes the relationship between a leader and his or her people grow apart.
“I believe Obama’s ability to listen was the product of tremendous confidence. If he had a weakness, maybe it was overconfidence,” Comey said. “I believe President Trump’s difficulty with listening is the product of deep, deep insecurity.”
The best leaders Comey said he has ever known have lifted their eyes above fear of what people would say about them in order to make the best decision possible. This, he said, is what he and the rest of the department tried to do when faced with the decision to announce the reopening of the probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails weeks before the election in 2016.
And it’s something he said he sees the United States as a whole doing now.
“I see people across this country, Republicans, Democrats and Independents — and I don’t care which one you are — raising their eyes,” Comey said.
“I compare President Trump to a forest fire because forest fires do a lot of damage. I believe that man is doing a lot of damage to our country’s central touchstone of truth, but, in the wake of a forest fire, amazing things grow that could not have grown before.”