In your book, you asked Coach Krzyzewski if his father had been a fireman. He said no, his brother was a fireman and his father an elevator operator. Why didn’t you edit out that mistake?
As I always do, I did a lot of research for that interview, and I remembered there was a firefighter in his family, and in my brain it was his father. But I’m not a smarty pants. I left that mistake in there to show that I’m going to make mistakes like anybody else.
The broader point, though, is that I like to get people talking about their families and their upbringings. One question in particular that I like to ask is, “Did your parents live to see your success?” If the answer is yes, that’s one of the great thrills of life, for both the grown child and the parent.
I was struck by something that (Saturday Night Live legend) Lorne Michaels says in your book: “If you’re in power, everybody knows it. So, you don’t have to explain you’re in power.” Is there a particular attitude towards power that characterizes great leadership?
Some leaders—business, political, whatever—are very insecure. They have to remind you how powerful they are, how smart they are, how rich they are. Those are the people in my view who aren’t great leaders. They don’t get people to follow them in an enduring way.
To me, the great leaders are people who know, as Lorne Michaels said, they have the power. They don’t have to show it or brag about it. The people that I’ve interviewed and the people that I admire tend to be those who have some humility and who recognize how lucky they are.
Now, you could say, for example, Donald Trump became president of the United States and he’s not a model of humility. And my impression would be that Napoleon wasn’t a model of humility. And I suspect Alexander the Great wasn’t a model of humility. But there are always exceptions to rules. As a general rule, I think that you’re more effective if you’re humble, and that you should be humble because you had a lot of luck to get where you are.
If you could magically interview three historical figures, who would they be?
First you’d have to explain the concept to them, because interviewing people is a relatively new concept. That’s why we really don’t have transcripts of George Washington, Henry VIII or Julius Caesar being interviewed.
That said, I would choose Abraham Lincoln, because I think he was the greatest president. I would love to ask William Shakespeare, “Who really wrote those plays? How come you don’t get enough credit for writing them all by yourself?”
Julius Caesar would be wonderful to interview. Alexander the Great, Cleopatra.
In terms of people who are alive today, Queen Elizabeth doesn’t give interviews, so that’s not realistic. The Pope would be a great person to interview. Xi Jinping I’ve met many times, but I couldn’t say I’ve had the chance to interview him. Vladimir Putin would be an interesting interview, though I don’t know whether I would learn that much.