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Holbrooke’s secret: People first

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in Leaders & Managers

Getting abducted in wartime makes life more difficult for U.S. diplomats, so when journalist David ­Rohde was taken hostage by Taliban, he expected U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke to be furious.

Rohde apologized to Holbrooke after his escape from Pakistan. Then he braced himself for an earful. Instead, Holbrooke expressed relief. “It is so good to hear your voice.”

The next thing Holbrooke did was focus on Rohde’s experience as a source of intelligence.

“Who are they? Why are they fighting? What do they want?” he asked. Pegged as an impatient, overbearing egotist, Holbrooke patiently listened for hours.

Rohde notes that Holbrooke often framed his diplomacy in terms of individuals, not groups, from a refugee in Bosnia to HIV-afflicted women in Namibia.

Lesson: Put people first. Understand the big picture but draw your inspiration and knowledge from those around you.

— Adapted from “Personal Diplomacy,” David Rohde, The New York Times Magazine.

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