I will remember Wednesday evening for a long time.
It was the night my wife and I met former FBI director James Comey. In fact, we more than met him. We listened to him speak about what can, dare I say, make America great again.
Comey was in Pittsburgh to kick off the Robert Morris University Speakers Series, an annual program of lectures from leading people in government, the arts, the sciences, entertainment and more.
(I also was honored to be among a group of about 40 people who had dinner with him before the speech. Everything said in that room was off the record, so my blog post references only what he said in the main lecture.) Comey spoke with no notes for the better part of 45 minutes before taking nearly 30 minutes of questions.
He spoke of leaders having four qualities: kindness and toughness, confidence and humility. He outlined how the best men and women he worked for during his years of public service possessed all four qualities; the cumulative effect was that people who worked under these leaders knew they were respected and trusted.
They could offer the leader advice, without fearing they’d be undermined. They also could operate knowing the mistakes they made wouldn’t destroy their careers.
Comey asserted that men and women who demonstrate ethical leadership bring important values, such as fairness and respect, with them. They also have “external reference points”, which can be found in logic, faith, trust in institutions and more, to remind them the decisions they make each day cannot be guided by selfishness, but rather by a kind-of continuum of time.
He discussed America’s three most recent presidents, saying that presidents Bush and Obama could always be trusted to tell the truth about their interactions with the FBI. He said both men found time to laugh with people or at themselves.
You can draw your own conclusions about the man I didn’t reference.
Comey noted that too many men and women — across politics, the arts and the corporate world — are trapped in self-interest that harms their decision making, undermines the trust people have in them and corrodes trust in the institutions in which they work.
In short, the values of truth and rule of law must guide America. And Comey believes that America can be made great again once those values are on full display by leaders inside and outside the political world.