What Can We Learn from Rumsfeld’s Rules?

Rumsfeld's Rules

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Are you familiar with Donald Rumsfeld? If not, allow us to familiarize you with Rumsfeld’s interesting background.

For four terms, he was the Congressman from Illinois, USA and became the Chief of Staff of the White House as well.

He was once the youngest Secretary of Defense of the US under President Gerald Ford.

Not only that, he was also the oldest Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush.

Aside from his service in the government, he was also the CEO of two organizations belonging to the Fortune 500 companies.

If that’s not impressive, we don’t know what this is anymore.

With that background, Rumsfeld has weathered several issues with different ranges of difficulty. How you stand in these difficult times determines your success.

Would it be interesting to know Rumsfeld’s Rules during a crisis? That’s what we’re going to tackle below so let’s start!

Origin of the Rules

Quitting can be a habit. If you keep doing it it, quitting one task after another – it surely becomes a bad habit.

And this is what Rumsfeld learned from his father when he wanted to quit the Boy Scouts. Sure, you can quit, but there are repercussions to quitting. And that’s how the first rule came to be.

Rumsfeld had all these quotes and learnings going on that President Ford named these the Rumsfeld’s Rules.

Of all the rules, one of Rumsfeld’s favorite is this – “All generalizations are false”. Even that previous statement, nothing is exempt. Use rules to guide you.

Rule Number One: Trust your instincts.

It is tempting to think that in any difficult situation, there is the perfect solution for it. In real life, that does not follow at all.

There’s no such thing as the perfect answer to your problems. When the 9/11 incident happened, Rumsfeld did not have a long-term plan to address this.

Do you know what he did? He kept on. He pushed on to know the details of the situation, knowing the extent of damage, injuries, and so on. He went on to get as much information as he can and he met the military and discussed the next actions.

Rule Number Two: Don’t overcontrol like a novice pilot.

Sometimes there is a tendency to panic when things go wrong. The thing with panic, it is contagious. As a leader, you should show that you are in control of the situation.

When you show panic, this affects how your team will look at the situation. When their leader looks helpless, what else can they do?

Going back to the 9/11 situation, the Pentagon’s command center was affected during the attack and Rumsfeld was asked to go to a different location.

What he did? He wanted to be in Pentagon to show that he is on top of the situation. That’s leadership for you.

Giving in to panic will get you nowhere. Exhibit strong leadership in the midst of a crisis.

Rule Number Three: First reports are often wrong.

Again relating to panic, know that the first details that come in doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all true. Some first news is enough to cause panic but often it doesn’t cover all of the details.

Your instinct to act out may kick in but remember that it’s important to gather as much details as you can so you have a better picture of the true situation.

Rumsfeld says that in a situation, eighty percent of the information can be obtained more quickly than the remaining twenty percent.

If this is the case, focus your energy on the eighty percent rather than delaying your time with the other twenty.

Rule Number Four: Speed kills.

The thing with speed, it gives you more options than your competition. Speed can even lead you to success.

Related to rule number three, once you have the important details, it’s time to take action. Let’s go back to what happened with Tylenol in 1982.

Several people died because of taking cyanide-laced Tylenols. Someone tampered with the medicines in Chicago.

What did Tylenol producers, Johnson & Johnson do? Even though it will cost them a lot, they recalled all the Tylenol tablets (over a hundred million dollars cost) and halted production.

They released public service announcements through media not to take yet any of their acetaminophen products.

They even offered to exchange previously bought Tylenol tablets. That was a good response to a crisis, they had to move with speed but they dealt with it well.

Rule Number Five: Never waste a good crisis.

Although difficult situations are viewed negatively, this is actually your time to change things that you wouldn’t have the chance to do so had not the crisis happened at all. What sticks in the people’s mind? It’s how you have handled the situation.

Whether you were able to handle it or not, they will remember what actions you took. So it’s better be memorable in a positive way. Difficulties opens opportunities for you to change things also.


And that’s about it on Rumsfeld’s Rules. So when a crisis arises, remember the rules. Trust your instincts.

Don’t rely on cut and dried approaches, there is no perfect solution.  Don’t overcontrol like a novice pilot. Don’t give in to panic, remember people look up to their leaders for direction be in control.

First reports are often wrong. Don’t get overwhelmed with the information going in. Speed kills. Be fast but be effective. And lastly, never waste a good crisis. They say there’s a silver lining in every situation, go do that change to make things better.




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