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Take some hints from ‘Rumsfeld’s Rules’

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U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld started compiling a set of aphorisms, known as “Rumsfeld’s Rules,” in 1974 and most recently revised them a few years ago. They draw on his experience as an aviator, member of Congress, business executive, ambassador, defense secretary and White House chief of staff.

Today, the rules ring as true as ever. Here are some of the best:

  • Don’t accept a job or stay there unless you have an understanding with your boss that you’re free to say what you think “with the bark off,” and you have the courage to do it.

  • Visit with your predecessors in a new job. They know the ropes and can help you see around some corners. Try to make original mistakes, rather than needlessly repeating theirs.

  • Be able to resign. It will improve your value and do wonders for your performance.

  • Learn to say, “I don’t know.” If used when appropriate, it will be often.

  • If you foul up, tell your boss, and correct it quickly. Delay only compounds mistakes.

  • Be precise. A lack of precision is dangerous when the margin of error is small.

  • Don’t divide the world into “them” and “us.”

  • Don’t speak ill of your predecessors or successors. You didn’t walk in their shoes.

  • Don’t blame the boss, who has enough problems.

  • If a prospective approach can’t be explained clearly enough to be understood well, it probably hasn’t been
    thought through.

  • Every day is filled with numerous opportunities for serious error. Enjoy it.

  • Keep your sense of humor. As Gen. Joe Stillwell said, “The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind.
— Adapted from “Advice on government, business and life,” Donald Rumsfeld, The Wall Street Journal.

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