DRC Board of Advisors Meeting: David Rubenstein Channels Oprah, Gates, RBG for Leadership Traits

Dave Moore, Staff Writer

According to author, financier, and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, the keys to leadership include:

      • Doggedly pursuing your vision;
      • Putting your passions and family first;
      • Staying curious and empathetic;
      • Working to unite disparate people; and
      • Striving for two-way communication.

Rubenstein related those and other takeaways to Dallas lawyer and friend of the Dallas Regional Chamber Talmage Boston, who served as interviewer for the Tuesday, Sept. 29, DRC Board of Advisors virtual meeting.

The conversation with Rubenstein centered primarily around his newly released book, “How to Lead: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers.” In his book, Rubenstein interviewed Oprah, George W. Bush, Bill and Melinda Gates, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and others, in an effort to compile the attributes for successful leadership.

The book explores 13 traits common among leaders, including – perhaps surprisingly – failure.

Rubenstein shared his own experience with failure during the DRC meeting.

“I came from very modest circumstances and got very lucky,” Rubenstein said. “I got a job in the White House with President [Jimmy] Carter and I had a West Wing office. I was going on Marine One, Air Force One, (visiting) Camp David. I’m advising the president… And then inflation hit. Gas lines hit. We had hostages in Iran. And we lost to Ronald Reagan.”

Suddenly, Rubenstein said, all those people who told him he how great and brilliant he was, wouldn’t call him back when he was looking for a job.

“I couldn’t tell my mother that her only child was unemployable, so I told her I had so many offers, I didn’t know which one to take,” he said.

After six months of unemployment, Rubenstein returned to practicing law. In 1987, he co-founded The Carlyle Group, a private investment firm that manages $221 billion in assets from 31 offices around the world.

Here’s a roundup of the other leadership traits covered by Boston and Rubenstein on Sept. 29:

Pursue Your Passions – David Rubenstein

“I tell everyone, if you want to be successful in life, you have to find something you’re passion about,” Rubenstein said. “If you’re not passionate about it, and your parents are passionate about it, it’s not going to work. You’re obviously passionate about the practice of law and doing the interviews we’re now doing, and you’re very good at it,” he said to Boston.

Doggedly Pursue Your Vision – Jeff Bezos

“Of course, he (Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos) is a very smart person, but he has a vision of something, and he’s determined to prove it. He doesn’t really take ‘no’ for an answer,” Rubenstein said. “Great business leaders are people that have a vision and pursue it, no matter what cost (or) how difficult it will be.”

Keep Family First – Bill and Melinda Gates

“As all of you watching this know, the hardest thing in the world to do is raise children,” Rubenstein said. “A lot of wealthy people have raised children that are not so wonderful. Bill and his wife, Melinda, have actually raised three balanced children who don’t run around saying, ‘My father’s the richest man in the world,’ and they have done some pretty impressive things.”

Stay Curious and Empathetic – Oprah

“Her great skill is interviewing people, not just asking them questions, but listening to them and then ultimately showing empathy with the answers she gets,” Rubenstein said. “Empathy, she says, is what made her so successful.”

Work on Bringing People Together – Sandra Day O’Connor and RBG

“Sandra Day O’Connor… had been a politician before she’d been a judge. She knew how to get along with powerful men, and she knew how, in the end, to get things done,” Rubenstein said. “She brought a different perspective to the Supreme Court, and she got people who had never really wanted to have lunch together to have lunch together. She brought a civility to the Supreme Court.”

“In Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s case… even though she disagreed with people like Justice [Antonin] Scalia, she could bond with people. And they admired her skills in getting along with people.”

Keep Two-way Communication – Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski)

“In [Mike] Krzyzewski’s case, he’s 72 or 73 years old, and he’s going into the homes of 17 year olds. He has to convince (them)… that he is the right person to coach them. They have a 50-year age gap or more. He recruits great players. I think one of his better lines is, ‘You remind me of LeBron James. And if you come to me, I’ll coach you like I coached LeBron James in the Olympics.’ That’s probably pretty compelling.”