The West Wing: Leo McGarry

Leo McGarry serves the President as his Chief of Staff. His role in the administration is right-hand man. Everything the President says, does, or even briefed on is filtered through the hands of Leo. This is probably the most trusted position in any presidency because you are the final checkpoint before anything goes to the President. This is not a position that is filled lightly and carries much weight on its shoulders. The Chief of Staff is in on almost every meeting the President takes, involved in decisions the President has to make, and manages the entire staff of the West Wing of the White House–through assistants of course. It is one of the most important roles in the White House along with one of the most thankless.

Throughout the series, Leo handles the position with courage and integrity. He was wired for this role, which is why after Jed Bartlet won the election, it was a natural choice to move Leo from Campaign Manager to Chief of Staff. The trust and relationship that was built through the campaign paid off and landed Leo in one of the most influential roles in the world.

One of Leo’s strengths was not letting that influence and power go to his head or the President’s head. Time and time again Leo reminds the President of his beginnings and almost knocks him down a peg or two. There are some really tense moments between the two throughout the series in which Leo steps in and diffuses the situation by bringing President Bartlet back down to earth. One episode in particular focuses on peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians at Camp David. Bartlet is dead set on pushing through talks of peace by the end of their time, while Leo is wary of too much pressure on the diplomats. There are scenes of heated discussion between the President and Leo which leads to the firing of Leo and his subsequent heart attack. Throughout all of it, despite his disagreement with the President, Leo never backed down from his convictions and always pushed back on what the President wanted. He did so not to manipulate the circumstances but in order to help make the President make the best decision possible.

Leo always stood up for what he believed was right, even if it put him at odds with the President, and it made the President better for it.

As a leader, who on your team will stand up to you even if you disagree? Not the person who will argue with you just to argue, but who is the person who you trust their judgement and decision making so much that, even if you do not see eye-to-eye, you still respect them in the end?

If you cannot name this person or they are not regularly part of your meetings, then you are leading from a very self-centered place of leadership. In fact, it is more insecurity than anything else. There is a fear of someone standing up to you. In the end, that is not leadership; it is a dictatorship. You need someone in the room who is unafraid of opposing you in order to help you make better decisions. It helps you as a leader practice humility as well as make the best, most informed decisions possible.

President Bartlet had Leo, and while it ultimately cost him his job in some respects, it never cost him his friendship. Leo valued that relationship too much to let everything run to Jed Bartlet’s head.

Who is your Leo?


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