Perspectives from the President’s War Room

“I did need to make sure that they knew who was in charge… teams function better when the leader asserts himself. And I wanted them to know that we needed a plan to deal with it and that everybody had a role to play.”

A candid comment from the former US President giving a rare window into decision making and leadership during an exceptional moment in modern history. Over 90 minutes, the documentary 9/11 Inside The President's War Room scrutinised the 24 hours after the terrorist attacks on New York’s Twin Towers which claimed thousands of lives, impacting across the world in ways we are still discovering today. The programme featured interviews with the then President, his accompanying entourage that day and decision makers elsewhere, inside a bunker below the White House.

In bringing together these perspectives, it helped join the dots between the multiple ripple effects of this crisis.

  • The nature of leadership, or as one presidential aide put it “You are who you are. Whatever you’ve got in you will come out in a moment of crisis.”
  • The importance of working technology, including a good TV, which was incredulously lacking in Air Force One, making them reliant on patchy signals as they flew over major cities, to get rolling TV news updates from the ground.
  • The exposure to misinformation and miscommunication, such as a caller warning about a threat to Air Force One, who was in fact misreported by the person on the other end of phone. “The amount of information that is wrong, when you are in a moment of crisis, the filters are down, people let information through just in case, is staggering.”
  • And even flickers of tragi-comedy, such as a mistaken overdose on anti-anthrax medication, having missed the prescribing advice of the President’s physician. This staffer was unharmed although remains known as the person who tried to OD on the President’s jet.

Huge congratulations to one of my former bosses, Neil Grant, for Executive Producing such an astonishing piece of TV - the programme afforded a rare insight into a crisis, even more so given the global magnitude of those 24 hours. This is a must watch for all leaders and their teams for its historical significance, and because it demonstrates how we must prepare for challenges and then face into the force of the moment, by drawing on the collective expertise and insight in the room.

9/11 Inside the President's War Room