And if you think you had a rough start to your job, Mueller was only at his job as director of the FBI for a week when 9/11 happened. Talk about pressure.
Prior to being tapped for the most important investigation in the country's history, Mueller sat down for an interview with The Aaron Harber Show, which was published to YouTube in July 2018.
His extraordinary career has many lessons for business leaders. Let's look at five of them.
1. You have to be prepared for disaster from day one.
As previously mentioned, Mueller was only FBI director for a week prior to Sept. 11, 2001 when the terrorist attack happened on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.
If you are an entrepreneur you don't have the luxury of delaying problems just because you are new at your job. A PR disaster, a natural disaster, a personal disaster, any of these can hit at anytime. When a crisis strikes you have to be ready, so if you don't know how to handle it, you better seek advice from someone who has done it before.
2. You have to know your role.
Being the FBI director for only a week when the biggest terrorist attack in American history happened, Mueller knew that he wasn't yet equipped to be giving out orders to people who had been doing their jobs for years or decades, he says. Immediately after the attack, he simply got out of people's way as their training kicked in and stayed abreast of the situation. Eventually he felt comfortable enough to take the lead.
If you have hired people for their experience and expertise, sometimes the best thing you can do is to stand back and let them do their jobs, especially if you're just getting your feet wet in the business.
This is something I have struggled with in my own business, since I want to take charge and do the work or at least lead the work being done. I've learned that as an entrepreneur, my role is often supposed to be the "enabler" not the "doer."
3. Sometimes you have to change your mindset as a leader.
When then-President George W. Bush told Mueller he was more interested in hearing how he was planning to prevent future terrorist attacks from happening rather than what he had already done to identify the terrorists involved in 9/11, the now-former FBI director knew that he had to switch his mindset. As a former prosecutor, he saw the FBI's role as one of catching bad people and bringing them to justice. However, he had to change that role to include protector of the country, too.
I found this myself as a business co-owner with my wife. When we started, it was all aggression and attacking the market to carve out our niche and boost sales and profit. But, as our workforce grew and we went through a few recessions, including the big one from 2007-09, I found my mindset changing. I began to appreciate more that our business was people's livelihoods and they were relying on us to keep it running smoothly for their benefit.
4. Relationships are your most important asset.
Mueller talks about how the FBI and the CIA didn't necessarily get along before 9/11, but they were essentially forced to start cooperating more because of that event and they formed a long lasting and beneficial partnership, which is key to keeping the country safe.
Often the hardest and most important part of leadership is the human factor of forming relationships. In our drug testing business we see how the impact of personal relationships impacts our business. We rely on having partnerships with drug laboratories, retail stores, shipping companies, etc. When you have good personal relationships with your entire supply chain, it benefits the entire business. Never underestimate the power of friendliness, even in business.
5. Leadership and leading people are not the same thing.
Mueller says being a leader is not necessarily the same thing as leading people. You can be a leader in an industry or some other area of life without leading people, but to lead people you need some basics (which he got from the marine corps):
You always take care of your team before you take care of yourself.
You never ask your subordinates to do something that you wouldn't be willing to do.
You have to learn how to delegate.
The good news for people who don't necessarily see themselves as natural leaders is that Mueller says leadership can be taught.
Follow these leadership lessons from Robert Mueller and you'll never end up having your own leadership questioned.