Book Review: A Higher Loyalty

When the former FBI Director publishes a book about leadership in the midst of the political machine, I am definitely going to want to read it!  James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty was a great read for a variety of reasons…without me making a political statement one way or the other about it.  I enjoyed it specifically because I love learning about both leadership and history.  Comey’s perspective on his own leadership journey, his commitment to integrity and values, and his interactions with some of our most powerful historical American leaders make this a great read.  His thoughts on decision making and consideration for others definitely gave me some things to think about.  I appreciated his thoughts on the differences in the presidents that he served and how those relationships evolved over time.  We are just two days away from Comey testifying before the Congressional committee related to the FBI’s investigations into Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email server, and possible collusion between Russia and President Trump’s presidential campaign.  It was great timing to read the book to get another perspective on the situation.

I highlighted several things while reading and have posted those notes below…


  • We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country, with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized, and unethical behavior is ignored, excused, or rewarded. Location: 27
  • Ethical leaders do not run from criticism, especially self-criticism, and they don’t hide from uncomfortable questions. They welcome them. All people have flaws and I have many. Location: 36
  • Doubt, I’ve learned, is wisdom. And the older I get, the less I know for certain. Those leaders who never think they are wrong, who never question their judgments or perspectives, are a danger to the organizations and people they lead. In some cases, they are a danger to the nation and the world. Location: 42
  • I have learned that ethical leaders lead by seeing beyond the short-term, beyond the urgent, and take every action with a view toward lasting values. Location: 44
  • Ethical leaders choose a higher loyalty to those core values over their own personal gain. Location: 50
  • Without a fundamental commitment to the truth—especially in our public institutions and those who lead them—we are lost. As a legal principle, if people don’t tell the truth, our justice system cannot function and a society based on the rule of law begins to dissolve. As a leadership principle, if leaders don’t tell the truth, or won’t hear the truth from others, they cannot make good decisions, they cannot themselves improve, and they cannot inspire trust among those who follow them. Location: 53
  • A commitment to integrity and a higher loyalty to truth are what separate the ethical leader from those who just happen to occupy leadership roles. We cannot ignore the difference. Location: 60
  • Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. —REINHOLD NIEBUHR Location: 70
  • a leader needs the truth, but an emperor does not consistently hear it from his underlings. Location: 357
  • Evil has an ordinary face. It laughs, it cries, it deflects, it rationalizes, it makes great pasta. Location: 448
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” Location: 619
  • He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions. —THOMAS JEFFERSON Location: 779
  • The more stressful the job, the more intentional I’ve always been about helping my team members find joy in our work. Laughter is the outward manifestation of joy, so I believe if I’m doing it right, and helping people connect to the meaning and joy in their work, there will be laughter in the workplace. Laughter is also a good indication that people aren’t taking themselves too seriously. Location: 1,163
  • Patrice had printed out an excerpt from my Senate confirmation hearing—less than six months earlier. As she and the kids sat behind me that day, senators had pressed me on how as deputy attorney general I would handle conflict with the White House. The context for their questions was how I would handle politically controversial investigations, but she had taped part of my answer to the refrigerator door: I don’t care about politics. I don’t care about expediency. I don’t care about friendship. I care about doing the right thing. And I would never be part of something that I believe to be fundamentally wrong. I mean, obviously we all make policy judgments where people disagree, but I will do the right thing. Location: 1,437
  • The Constitution and the rule of law are not partisan political tools. Lady Justice wears a blindfold. She is not supposed to peek out to see how her political master wishes her to weigh a matter. Location: 1,629
  • The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. —DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER Location: 1,773
  • We would teach that great leaders are (1) people of integrity and decency; (2) confident enough to be humble; (3) both kind and tough; (4) transparent; and (5) aware that we all seek meaning in work. We would also teach them that (6) what they say is important, but what they do is far more important, because their people are always watching them. In short, we would demand and develop ethical leaders. Location: 1,993
  • I laid out my five expectations that first day and many times thereafter. Every new employee heard them, and I repeated them wherever I went in the organization: • I expected they would find joy in their work. They were part of an organization devoted to doing good, protecting the weak, rescuing the taken, and catching criminals. That was work with moral content. Doing it should be a source of great joy. • I expected they would treat all people with respect and dignity, without regard to position or station in life. • I expected they would protect the institution’s reservoir of trust and credibility that makes possible all their work. • I expected they would work hard, because they owe that to the taxpayer. • I expected they would fight for balance in their lives. Location: 2,004
  • And then I got personal. “There are people in your lives called ‘loved ones’ because you are supposed to love them.” In our work, I warned, there is a disease called “get-back-itis.” That is, you may tell yourself, “I am trying to protect a country, so I will get back to” my spouse, my kids, my parents, my siblings, my friends. “There is no getting back,” I said. “In this line of work, you will learn that bad things happen to good people. You will turn to get back and they will be gone. I order you to love somebody. It’s the right thing to do and it’s also good for you.” Location: 2,019
  • When you sleep, your brain is actually engaged in the neurochemical process of judgment. It is mapping connections and finding meaning among all the data you took in during the day. Location: 2,026
  • Harry Truman once said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.” Humans tend to do the same dumb things, and the same evil things, again and again, because we forget. Location: 2,110
  • Let me not seek as much … to be understood as to understand. —PEACE PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS Location: 2,115
  • Safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility. —ROBERT H. JACKSON, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE Location: 2,855
  • I wrote this book because I hope it will be useful to people living among the flames who are thinking about what comes next. I also hope it will be useful to readers long after the flames are doused, by inspiring them to choose a higher loyalty, to find truth among lies, and to pursue ethical leadership. Location: 4,196

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