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Distributed for Haus Publishing


Lessons from a Life in Diplomacy

Distributed for Haus Publishing


Lessons from a Life in Diplomacy

A British diplomat shares lessons on leadership gained over his expansive career. 

Simon McDonald argues that we should reflect on the nature and strategies of leadership before entering a leadership role, and we should look to examples of others to help us in shaping our own approaches.

Over nearly four decades in Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service, McDonald worked for four permanent under-secretaries and a dozen senior ambassadors before becoming a permanent under-secretary himself and leading the Service—which has over 14,000 staff members in 270 countries—for five years. He also worked directly for six foreign secretaries and under five prime ministers. Observing these people undertaking such important and difficult work, McDonald saw the behaviors which helped them achieve their objectives, as well as those which hindered them.

In this book, McDonald synthesizes the skills he’s learned through his many years working in diplomacy, offering an insightful contribution amid heightening debates over the leadership of the United Kingdom. Considering the future of British leadership, he makes a 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.

224 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Biography and Letters

Political Science: Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, and International Relations

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"An enjoyable read packed with insights from someone who was 'on the spot' when the United Kingdom responded to significant international challenges... Simon guides the reader to appreciate what constitutes good leadership while
also casting shards of light on some of those at the top of international governance who displayed those qualities."

The House Magazine

"McDonald effectively analyses his lived experiences in some of the most powerful institutions in the world to provide resonating insights. His suggestion, for example, to keep project groups small so that there is accountability. This is relevant for government ministers planning large projects, and also to a parent or school head delegating tasks. In bridging the gap between leaders of nations and leaders in our personal lives, McDonald changes our understanding of leadership. He makes us think of leaders beyond the male-dominated leadership, to include matriarchs, and varied places, including at work and in our homes, in addition to our community leaders."

New Straits Times

"Civil servants have to be flexible about the policies they work on. But as this book makes clear, they do see themselves as the guardians of the principles and practices of good government. Leadership displays the virtues you might expect of a top diplomat: it is elegantly written, discreet, and observant."

Financial Times

"As a memoir, a plan for reform, and a reflection on its titular theme, Leadership forms an important part of Simon’s legacy as a senior civil servant and would be a valuable addition to the bookshelves of readers interested in any one of those subjects."

Civil Service World

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ix
Preface xi
1. Role Models 1
2. Indifferent Models 25
3. Leadership Done Well 41
4. Leading for the First Time 51
5. Leadership at the Centre 59
6. Problems Choosing Leaders (Particularly in the Civil
Service) 95
7. C onstraints on Leaders 111
8. The End of Leadership 129
9. The Good Leader 141
10. Self-Assessment 187
11. Proposed Reforms for the Future of the UK 201
Index 244

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