Leadership Feature: Meet the Foundation’s Board

We were delighted to interview our Board members for this closing blog post of the year to provide an opportunity for our community to learn more about the terrific individuals at the Foundation’s helm. Read on for interesting insights like their favorite leadership lessons and what they’ve learned from working with our founder, as well as their passion for the Foundation’s work and much more. Find the full biographies of our Board members on our Leadership Page here and enjoy getting to know more about them below.

What most excites and inspires you about the Foundation’s work?

  • I am impressed by the commitment to public service and national security our Graduate Fellows show. Each year when we review their applications, I am struck by the vision and intensity that comes through in the submissions. I'm also so thankful for the academic Advisers who help identify the Fellows and guide them through the process. And then the Central Asia Fellows are creating such an important network of colleagues, that it gives me confidence that the region will be in good hands for many years ahead. - Di Rita
  • Engaging with both groups of Fellows gives me optimism and hope for the future, both at home and abroad. - Clarke
  • The opportunity to engage both our Graduate Fellows and Central Asia Fellows, two groups of individuals who are eager, willing and able to learn and to invest their own time and talent in advancing civil society and public service. - Cambone
  • I believe that clusters of individuals, not abstract forces, shape history and the future. Further, I am convinced that people of cognate motives and experience aligned in the common purposes of the Foundation have a chance to move the region and its diaspora to build a benign and effective transformative force. - Biester

Why do you believe the mission of the Foundation is important?

  • The Foundation is developing a large and growing body of like-minded colleagues and those relationships can last for decades of their professional lives. Those networks are going to create a flywheel for stable policymaking for years to come. It's a privilege to be part of helping shape that. - Di Rita
  • The mission is critical because we need people dedicated to public service. Anything we can do to further that goal is a worthy enterprise. - Clarke
  • Civil society and public service are two essential features of self-government -- in private and in the public square. The Foundation seeks to advance both at home and abroad. - Cambone
  • In a world dragged through multiple and dangerous divisions, clear-eyed quests for informed comprehension of common interest is vital. - Biester

What drew you to public service in your own career?

  • I felt that the United States had given my family and me so much. We were first generation Italian-Americans and my parents instilled in us the need to believe in the country. To me that meant paying back for all that we were able to achieve, through military service. I remember my first night of plebe summer in Annapolis in July 1976 that we were asked to write short essays answering more or less the same question and that's what I wrote. - Di Rita
  • I was drawn to public service by people like Secretary Rumsfeld who put country and policy before politics and personal ambition. - Clarke
  • A belief that the founding principles of the United States were unique in their expression, and for that reason, in need of public support in debates and decisions over how we would govern ourselves. Those principles do not yield law and policy on their own. The latter are the result of citizens serving in government and other civic associations, engaging others and working to assure that the majority, in exercising the responsibilities of governing, respects the rights of those in the minority in our republican form of government. - Cambone

What was your favorite role throughout your time in public service and why?

  • I was in the Navy and had several different tours afloat and ashore. Probably the most interesting was the Boilers Officer on the U.S.S, Midway. It was a terrific experience. I also worked in the U.S. Senate, and at the Department of Defense in several positions. All of my opportunities in public service were fulfilling, but the good fortune that came my way in being Donald Rumsfeld's special assistant is something that really hasn't fully sunk in, even today. - Di Rita
  • My favorite role was serving as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. The mission was critical, the leadership enlightened and the opportunity to work with the exceptional men and women in uniform a privilege. - Clarke
  • I was fortunate to have served in a number of roles, across both Bush presidencies, all within the Department of Defense. The most interesting may have been Director of then-Program, Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E). In that role I had the opportunity to work closely with the components of DOD to build a budget and a five-year defense plan. Looking back, we put in motion a number of key programs that have or will soon benefit the nation. - Cambone

What are some key tenets of your own leadership philosophy?

  • Energy, optimism, and confidence are the leadership traits that I try to model. I also believe the most fundamental quality a leader must do well is to communicate, and to be "the keeper of the why." - Di Rita
  • Hire people who are more talented than you are and get out of their way. - Clarke
  • Learn from the best; appreciate that consensus and compromise are indicators of comity and progress; place people in positions where they can succeed; care more about accomplishing the mission than who gets credit for it. - Cambone
  • Courage, to believe that - on a given issue - you are probably right after intellectually honest testing. - Biester

What are three words that you would use to describe Secretary Rumsfeld?

  • Transformation, courage, and perspective. - Di Rita
  • Energy, passion and humor. - Clarke
  • Liberal in perspective, conservative in approach, humble in his appreciation for addressing the complexity of human affairs. - Cambone

Can you share a favorite memory from your time spent with Secretary Rumsfeld?

  • There are many. But one particular memory I cherish is when I was in the Public Affairs job the last couple years in office. They were busy times and things weren't always going great during that period. When we would travel overseas somewhere, after we arrived and finished up the flurry of the first day of whatever it is we were doing, Admiral Jim Stavridis, the senior military assistant, and I typically ended up back in Rumsfeld's suite with him. We'd open a bottle of wine and we'd just sit there and catch up, talk about the day or what was coming up, and kind of re-zero everything. I value that time we had. - Di Rita
  • Less a story than a theme: His absolute favorite activity was spending time with young men and women in uniform. He so admired and appreciated them, and he got enormous energy from interacting with them. - Clarke
  • There are many, but of them one was recurring. On more than one occasion, when I resisted a course of action he proposed, he'd tell me, "It will be good for you to do it." That "good" was variously defined--for me personally, for the policy or program at issue, etc. In the end, I agreed in each instance… and in each instance -- in varying ways -- he was proved correct. - Cambone

What is one Rumsfeld’s Rule that has always stuck with you?

  • If you want to change something in Washington, don't change the name. Rumsfeld attributes that one to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. I like it because it holds up pretty well, but it also is a window into his experiences and the way he thought about things. - Di Rita
  • Never get rid of something until you know how you’re going to replace it. - Clarke
  • "A’s hire A’s..." I have always taken it as a challenge. If you want to work with the best, one has to prove to them that you are entitled to the privilege. - Cambone

What is one of the most valuable lessons that you learned from Secretary Rumsfeld?

  • I really learned how to communicate from him. Which is ironic since I was supposedly the spokesman, but whatever it is I learned about that role was from watching him up close for so many years. His gift for communicating began with his ability to listen so carefully. And he was always present -- in the moment -- when he spoke. It allowed him to maintain control of what it was he wanted to convey. I'm just scratching the surface of what I learned from him about this. - Di Rita
  • Daring to ask, “what are the unknown unknowns?” In other words, be brave enough to challenge conventional wisdom and think outside the box. - Clarke
  • It was never enough to know your own mind on an issue. It was essential that you understood the mind of those with whom you were engaged. Understanding the issue from that point of view made it more likely a resolution could be found that was both appropriate in the circumstance and more likely to endure. - Cambone
  • If you don’t understand how to follow, you will never know how to lead. - Biester

Lastly, what is something that you wish more people knew about Secretary Rumsfeld?

  • I always observed that Rumsfeld valued -- in some ways, demanded -- engagement and to be challenged. He welcomed it, tried to engender it, and always appreciated it. He was a super curious person, a voracious reader, who absorbed bits and elements from everything and everyone. He valued that in others. That wasn't always well understood. - Di Rita
  • I wish more people knew how remarkably kind he was. - Clarke
  • That he had a wicked sense of humor. - Cambone
  • He was a man with that wonderful combination of intelligence, moral courage, love of country, and strong will to carry purposes. - Biester
View more photos of Rumsfeld with our Board in our press release that followed Secretary Rumsfeld’s passing, outlining our Board members’ new positions of leadership.

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