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“He has figured out how to have followers”: A top dealmaker on Trump’s leadership

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David M. Rubenstein, co-founder of the private-equity shop Carlyle Group, has had an admittedly self-serving epiphany about successful leaders.

Many, like himself, surged in the second and third phases of life, the times focused on building up the skills of a career and then reaping the benefits. They were not the hot shots of the first phase: class presidents, captain of the football team, and so on.

“It may be a rationalization for my inability to be as successful in the first third of my life as I wanted to be,” he says. “Later, when I got more successful, I looked back at all these people who were so successful early on. None of them turned out to be so successful by conventional standards.”

Rubenstein’s new book, How to Lead: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers, is out this week. It’s a compilation of some of the interviews he has done for the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., and his Bloomberg TV show Peer to Peer. Rubenstein is an affable and purposely unthreatening interviewer, and the tidy chapters in his book are digestible distillations of his chats with the likes of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Tim Cook, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Condoleezza Rice, Yo-Yo Ma, and many others.

“The point of the book is really this,” he says. “How did they do it, and can you get any lessons from them? Particularly for young people. They are looking for heroes. Can you learn anything from them?” He has distilled the qualities that make great leaders into a baker’s dozen of attributes, including desire, a strong work ethic, ability to focus, persistence, having a humble demeanor, and integrity.

The current president of the United States shows up only in passing, and I ask Rubenstein to assess Donald Trump’s leadership. He says that he did interview Trump, though he didn’t include it in the book. “In the green room, he said, ‘Ask me anything you want, but ask me if I’m going to run for President.’ And I said, ‘Donald, president of what?’”

I expected Rubenstein, who worked as a young lawyer in the Carter administration, to rate Trump’s leadership poorly. Instead, he flashes diplomatic skills honed from a lifetime inside the Beltway, where he started Carlyle.

“I didn’t want to make the book about if you’re like Trump or you’re different from Trump,” he says. “I set out the qualities of leadership in the book, and he has some of them. To be a leader you have to have followers. He has figured out how to have followers.” 

Adam Lashinsky

@adamlashinsky

adam.lashinsky@fortune.com

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

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