Monday, May 9, 2016

Power Skills

The Times is running a long profile of Ben Rhodes, one of Obama's closest advisers. His official position is deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, that is, he is responsible for putting out the message on the administration's foreign policy. But he has also become, say insiders, one of the key shapers of that policy.

Rhodes was an aspiring novelist who decided to get into foreign policy after watching the Twin Towers fall on September 11. His first foreign policy job was writing speeches for former Congressman Lee Hamilton:
 “I was surprised,” Hamilton remembered. “What the hell does a guy who wanted to write fiction come to me for?” But he had always found writers useful, and Rhodes’s writing sample was the best in the pile. So he hired him on at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank. Though Rhodes never said a word in meetings, Hamilton says, he had a keen understanding of what was going on and a talent for putting the positions of distinguished participants down on paper. “I immediately understood that it’s a very important quality for a staffer,” Hamilton explained, “that he could come into a meeting and decide what was decided.” I suggested that the phrase “decide what was decided” is suggestive of the enormous power that might accrue to someone with Rhodes’s gifts. Hamilton nodded. “Absolutely,” he said.
I love that, because I also think this ability to sum up a long meeting in a way that shapes the decisions made without trying to seriously change them is extremely powerful.

Here's another take on Rhodes' prowess in meetings, from Samantha Power:
Obama relies on Rhodes for “an unvarnished take,” in part, she says, because “Ben just has no poker face,” and so it’s easy to see when he is feeling uncomfortable. “The president will be like, ‘Ben, something on your mind?’ And then Ben will have this incredibly precise lay-down of why the previous half-hour has been an utter waste of time, because there’s a structural flaw to the entire direction of the conversation.”
Since meetings are where most of the big decisions are made, he who masters the meeting controls the world.

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