‘An original, very well-written, and serious book which adds to the quality of public discussion.’
‘This is a book full of riches – a despatch from deep inside the British state about how it really operates and how it could be run better. In places, Simon McDonald wields his fluent pen like a blowtorch. His candour burns the page. Some of the most eminent in the land will rush to the index. Some will be right to tremble if they find their name.’
When Abraham Lincoln said, ‘You can be anything you want to be,’ Americans, and eventually everybody everywhere, lifted their sights. Nowadays anybody can aspire to be a leader, and nearly everybody has to lead sometimes.
In his first book, Simon McDonald assumes that thinking about leadership before you lead helps you lead better. No matter the circumstances in which we might be called to lead – be it at work, on the sports field, or in the community – the example of top leaders in politics and public service (both their successes and shortcomings) can help you figure out your own approach.
Over four decades in HM Diplomatic Service, Simon worked for four permanent under-secretaries and a dozen senior ambassadors before becoming permanent under-secretary himself and leading the Service (which has over 14,000 staff in 270 countries worldwide) for five years. He also worked directly for six foreign secretaries and saw five ministers work at close quarters. Observing these people undertaking the most important and often the most difficult work in the country, Simon saw the behaviours that helped them achieve their objectives, and those that hindered them. He then had the chance to try to apply that learning.
In a closing chapter that considers the future of leadership in the UK, Simon McDonald makes a compelling case for the reform of the monarchy, the cabinet, civil service, and, in particular, the House of Lords, of which he has been a member since 2021.
Leadership of the United Kingdom is being debated as never before. This book is a clear-sighted and insightful contribution to that debate.
SIMON MCDONALD was the British ambassador to Germany and later permanent under-secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and head of Diplomatic Service. He is Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge.
Follow Simon on Twitter @SimonMcDonaldUK
Read Simon’s interview with the i here.
Watch Simon’s interview with Andrew Marr for Tonight with Andrew Marr on LBC Radio here.
Watch Simon’s interview with Beth Rigby for Beth Rigby Interviews on Sky News.
© Haus Publishing Ltd. 2022