Judgment Calls: Risks, Rules and Leadership

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Jun 25, 2019
by Louise Hallman
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Judgment Calls: Risks, Rules and Leadership

James Comey, former director of the FBI, delivers third annual Salzburg Global Lecture

James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2013 to 2017, delivered the third annual Salzburg Global Lecture at this year's June Board Weekend.

Speaking on “Judgment Calls: Risks, Rules and Leadership,” he told and audience of distinguished guests that he was “proud” of his most well-known and controversial judgment call: to re-open the investigation into Hilary Clinton’s emails shortly before the 2016 US presidential election. 

“As painful as it was I think in the long run those decisions will be seen as well-meant and even if people disagree, which reasonable people can, I’m proud of the way those decisions were made.”

Leaders, Comey said, need to “get help, lift your eyes, and remember your grandchildren” when taking tough decisions. The 58-year-old recently became a grandfather for the first time earlier this year. 

“That someday you have to explain this to them – that helps you travel out of the moment where there’s so many angry voices and fear and all the things that can dominate, because your grandchildren aren’t going to understand that you made a decision because you were afraid or worried about being embarrassed or that quarter’s numbers for your corporation would look bad… Your grandchildren are going to want to hear you thought about what matters in the long run.”

Despite his outspoken criticism of President Trump, who he called a “chronic liar,” in a roundtable interview with the Austrian press, Comey said: “American parents of the last two and a half years have had more conversations at dinner with their children about truth than ever before… There is good that is coming from the way Donald Trump has acted.” Having published the book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership in 2018, Comey plans to spend the time between now and the 2020 election teaching and speaking about ethical leadership, especially with younger Americans. 

“I want to be able to tell [my grandchildren] that when we were led by an unethical President I lent my voice.”

The overall theme of this year’s June Board Weekend was Living Dangerously: How Can We Get Real About Risk?Other speakers included retired US Supreme Court Justice, Anthony Kennedy; leading African academic, Nelson Torto; former CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, Kathryn Fuller; and former executive chairman of the Malaysian Securities Commission, Ranjit Singh. All addressed the increasing risks being faced in their fields and how we can mitigate such risk.

A full transcript of the 2019 Salzburg Global Lecture will be published in July. Subsribe to our newsletter to get updates: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/subscribe