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Leon Panetta’s Hard Lessons in Leadership

A host of memoirs by former Obama administration Cabinet chiefs have been arriving in bookstores, offering valuable management lessons for political appointees and career civil servants. This is the last in a series on the experiences of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (Stress Test), Defense Secretary Robert Gates (Duty), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Hard Choices), and Defense and intelligence chief Leon Panetta (Worthy Fights).

In Worthy Fights, Leon Panetta chronicles his tenure during the first term of the Obama administration as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (February 2009 to June 2011) and as secretary of Defense (July 2011 to February 2013). He also served as a member of the House and as budget director and chief of staff for President Clinton. While Panetta’s memoir is stirring controversy over his criticism of President Obama’s leadership style, the management insights for government leaders have received far less attention:

Involve key staff in decision-making. Panetta acknowledges that his credentials for the CIA position were not based on prior experience in covert action or intelligence gathering, and says he got the job because he knew something about running organizations. Based on his work in the Clinton administration, Panetta had seen the ...

Everything You Need to Know About Introverted Leaders

To be a great boss, you don’t have to be an extroverted back-slapper. A growing body of research suggests introverts can be excellent leaders too.

After all, billionaires Warren Buffett, Larry Page, and Bill Gates have been described as introverts. And other CEOs including Colgate Palmolive’s Ian Cook (paywall), have cited their introverted personalities as an advantage.

The key to success for both extroverts and introverts comes down being honest about strengths and weaknesses, and picking the right approach.

What’s the difference?

Introverted doesn’t necessarily mean shy. Extroverted doesn’t always mean gregarious.

A better definition might be that introverts tend to find social interaction draining, particularly with large groups. They gather their energy from time spent alone. An even more precise characterizationmight focus on sensitivity: Introverts are more inclined to be overstimulated by other people. They need solitude to recover.

How can that possible be a good thing?

Sensitivity is strength. Research from Wharton professor Adam Grant(pdf) suggests that introverted leaders are much more likely to listen to and empower employees that come up with new ideas, whereas extroverted bosses are more apt to feel threatened and shut them down.

As a result ...

Let the Body Rest, for the Sake of the Brain

I’m sure a lot of subway riders are skilled nappers, but this car seemed to be particularly talented. Going over the Brooklyn Bridge on a recent morning, just as the sun was coming up, a row of men in nearly identical black suits held on to the straps with their eyes closed. Their necks were bent at the slightest of angles, like a row of daisies in a breeze, and as the car clanged over the tracks and the sun pierced through the grimy train windows, it finally dawned on me they were all sound asleep. Not even the bumps and the light could stop them from sneaking in 15 more minutes of shut-eye before work.

We take it for granted, but most people have to wake up for work (or school or other morning obligations) long before they want to. Sleeping in is treated as a cherished luxury—it’s somehow become normal that people wake up still exhausted, and anything but is a notable exception.

But rising before the body wants to affects not only morale and energy, but brain function as well.

“The practice of going to sleep and waking up at ‘unnatural’ times could be ...

How to Write a Business Letter: Advice From the 18th Century

The Earl of Chesterfield, the 18th-century British statesman and patron of the arts, had a number of concerns about his illegitimate son Philip, but one he revisited often in his posthumously published letters to the boy is about Philip’s correspondence. This species of worry ranged from handwriting (“shamefully bad and illiberal; it is neither the hand of a man of business, nor of a gentleman, but of a truant school boy”) to the boy’s prose style (“one principal topic of our conversation will be, not only the purity but the elegance of the English language; in both which you are very deficient”).

The latter became a particular concern after Chesterfield went to the trouble of setting the boy up in the world. In December 1751, he offered Philip some delightfully modern-sounding advice on his business correspondence:

The first thing necessary in writing letters of business, is extreme clearness and perspicuity; every paragraph should be so clear and unambiguous, that the dullest fellow in the world may not be able to mistake it, nor obliged to read it twice in order to understand it. This necessary clearness implies a correctness, without excluding an elegance of style. Tropes, figures, antitheses ...

The Introverted Face

People whose faces are perceived to look more "competent" are more likely to be CEOs of large, successful companies. Having a face that people deem "dominant" is a predictor of rank advancement in the military. People are more likely to invest money with people who look "trustworthy." These sorts of findings go on and on in recent studies that claim people can accurately guess a variety of personality traits and behavioral tendencies from portraits alone. The findings seem to elucidate either canny human intuition or absurd, misguided bias.

There has been a recent boom in research on how people attribute social characteristics to others based on the appearance of faces—independent of cues about age, gender, race, or ethnicity. (At least, as independent as possible.) The results seem to offer some intriguing insight, claiming that people are generally pretty good at predicting who is, for example, trustworthy, competent, introverted or extroverted, based entirely on facial structure. There is strong agreement across studies as to what facial attributes mean what to people, as illustrated in renderings throughout this article. But it's, predictably, not at all so simple.

Christopher Olivola, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, makes the case against ...