A Conversation on Leadership with John O. Brennan, Adm. Bobby Inman, Julian Castro and Chancellor William McRaven

Thursday, Feb 15, 2018 - Thursday, Feb 15, 2018   |   12:15 - 1:45 pm   |  Bass Lecture Hall

On Thursday, February 15, the Intelligence Studies Project, Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and  Clements Center for National Security welcomed University Distinguished Scholar and former CIA Director John O. Brennan, Admiral Bobby Inman, Chancellor William McRaven and the Honorable Julian Castro for a panel discussion on leadership in the public sector. The panel was moderated by William Inboden, Executive Director of the Clements Center. 

Selected images from the event may be found here

As each speaker detailed their own understanding of leadership and fielded questions from Dr. Inboden and the audience, they echoed a singular message: to be a truly great leader you must set forth a vision for your organization and actively pursue it. A great leader must stay true to a core set of values, and they must listen to and engage with those they are leading. In their individual remarks Brennan, Inman, McRaven and Castro regaled the audience with stories of their own successes and failures, conveying wisdom garnered over decades of experience in some of our nation's most senior leadership positions. The following are selected remarks from their conversation. 

John O. Brennan

Former CIA Director and UT alum John Brennan began by saying that truly great leaders have one thing in common aside from a University of Texas education; their leadership is a manifestation of their experiences and guiding principles. The importance of morality - a simple understanding of the difference between right and wrong - is something that Brennan said was instilled in him very early. Brennan noted, "My father used to tell me 'If you can look yourself in the mirror everyday and say you made the right decisions because you believed they were right, then that is fine.' The naysayers will always be out there, but you must be sure to live to your principles." Ultimately a leader's ability to do the right thing at difficult times is what Brennan says distinguished successful leader from those that fail. 

In addition to living in accordance with a strong moral foundation, Brennan noted that it is also a leader's responsibility to listen to the concerns and aspirations of those under you. Given that no organization is monolithic, it is the leader's responsibility to create an environment where people feel empowered not just to act, but to speak as well. 


Chancellor William McRaven

A former head of U.S. Special Operations Command and JSOC, Chancellor McRaven said that in order to foster new leaders the military teaches the following phrase: take care of the troops and the troops will take care of you. The question then becomes what does it mean to take care of the troops? In any great organization the first step is to set a standard of excellence. You then must give people the resources to reach those standards and hold them accountable. To set the standards, to make decisions as the head of an organization, McRaven says that you must do the right thing and the right thing is that course of action that is moral, legal, and ethical. Chancellor McRaven noted that failures in today's leadership happen when there is an absence of guiding moral principles. Like a house of cards, organizations and achievements that are not grounded in a strong foundation will inevitably collapse. 

Another key to successful leadership is striking the proper professional distance. When asked about how to lead an organization in which you can't meet everyone, McRaven said that you must establish a kind of battle rhythm and intentionally carve out time to engage with people. You cannot lead from an ivory tower. 


Admiral Bobby R. Inman

Admiral Bobby Inman, who has served as the Director of Naval Intelligence, Vice Director of the DIA, deputy director of Central Intelligence, and director of the NSA, said that in all his 31 years of working for the government, 35 years in the private sector, and 27 years in academia, he learned the fundamentals of leadership in his very first job in the navy on an aircraft carrier in combat. Inman stated simply, "you manage things, you lead people." To do that you have to be interested in the people you lead. You must understand their needs and concerns, and do not ever underestimate the value of direct communication. 

When asked how best to stay true to one's own values, Inman stressed the importance of leading by example. Make sure you are doing the right thing, and "confront barriers that do not serve the common interest - that is a leadership issue." 


Julian Castro

In his description of leadership, Castro said that from the very beginning the best leaders have a strong vision of where they want their organizations to go. This vision should not only reflect the leader's personal interests but also the interests of those they lead. 

When asked how to balance leadership with public opinion, Castro noted that this is a question he hears often and was particularly wary of when entering the political arena. Like many, he feared his own individuality could get lost in the politics. However, in his years of experience both as Mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Castro has found that, though it is possible to get off track, it is equally possible to stay true to your convictions and still make necessary compromises. 

When leaders do fail, Castro emphasized that it's important that they be able to admit their mistakes. Sometimes people do mess up, and in order to foster better leadership "we need to get back to a place in our country where our leaders can admit that, accept that, and grow from that." 



The Honorable John O. Brennan

John Brennan CIA official portraitJohn O. Brennan is the Senior Advisor to the Intelligence Studies Project and a Distinguished Non-Resident Scholar at The University of Texas at Austin. Mr. Brennan was sworn in as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on March 8, 2013. As Director, he managed intelligence collection, analysis, covert action, counterintelligence and liaison relationships with foreign intelligence services. 

Prior to becoming Director, Mr. Brennan served at the White House for four years as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. During this time, he advised the President on counterterrorism strategy and helped coordinate the U.S. Government's approach to homeland security, including its policies for responding to terrorism, cyber-attacks, natural disasters, and pandemics. Mr. Brennan began his service in government at the CIA, where he worked from 1980 to 2005. He spent most of his early career in the Agency's main analytic arm, the Directorate of Analysis, specializing in the Near East and South Asia before directing counterterrorism in the early 1990s. In 1994 and 1995, he was the Agency's intelligence briefer to President Bill Clinton. 

After an assignment as Chief of Station in the Middle East, Mr. Brennan served from 1999 to 2001 as Chief of Staff to George Tenet, who was then Director of Central Intelligence. Mr. Brennan next worked as Deputy Executive Director of the CIA until 2003, where he began leading a multi-agency effort to establish what would become the National Counterterrorism Center. In 2004, he became the Center's Interim Director. 

Mr. Brennan graduated from Fordham University in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in political science. While enrolled at Fordham, he studied abroad at the American University in Cairo in 1975. He later attended The University of Texas at Austin, where in 1980 he earned a master's degree in government with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies. 

Chancellor William McRaven 

ADM William H. McRaven 2012Adm. William McRaven is the Chancellor of The University of Texas System. Prior to becoming chancellor in January 2015, McRaven was the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command during which time he led a force of 69,000 men and women and was responsible for conducting counter-terrorism operations worldwide. McRaven also is a recognized national authority on U.S. foreign policy and has advised presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and other U.S. leaders on defense issues. His book, "Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice," published in several languages, is considered a fundamental text on special operations strategy. 

McRaven has been recognized for his leadership numerous times by national and international publications and organizations. In 2011, he was the first runner-up for Time magazine's Person of the Year and was named Texan of the Year by the Dallas Morning News. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named McRaven one of the nation's Top 10 Foreign Policy Experts and one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. In 2014, Politico magazine named McRaven one of the Politico 50, citing his leadership as instrumental in cutting through Washington bureaucracy. He has also received the Republic of France's region d'Honneur, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association's National Award and the National Intelligence Award.

Most recently, in 2015, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum selected McRaven to receive the Intrepid Freedom Award for his distinguished service in promoting and defending the values of democracy. Also in 2015, he was presented with the Distinguished Service Award from the FBI Agents Association. In 2016, McRaven was named the recipient of the Ambassador Richard M. Helms Award by the Central Intelligence Agency Officers Memorial Foundation. 

The Honorable Julian Castro

Julian CastroJulian Castro is the Dean's Distinguished Fellow and Fellow of the Davila Chair in International Trade Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Previously, he served as the 16th U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017 and mayor of San Antonio from 2009 to 2014. 

Castro, a native Texan, born and raised in San Antonio, launched his public service career in 2001, becoming San Antonio's youngest councilman. He was elected to mayor in 2009 and re-elected in both 2011 and 2013. During his tenure as mayor, Castro focused on attracting well-pang jobs in 21st century industries and expanding education opportunities across the city. Castro launched into the national arena with his keynote address - the first by a Latino - at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. In 2014, Castro accepted President Barack Obama's offer of the position of U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and upon confirmation, served in that role until 2017.




Adm Inman

Admiral (Ret.) Bobby R. Inman

Adm. Bobby R. Inman became an adjunct professor at The University of Texas at Austin in 1987. He was appointed a tenured professor holding the Lyndon B. Johnson Centennial Chair in National Policy in August 2001. He served as interim dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs in 2005 and again from January 2009 to March 2010. Adm. Inman served in the U.S. Navy from November 1951 to July 1982, retiring with the permanent rank of admiral. On active duty he served as Director of the National Security Agency and as Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. He is an elected fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.