Simon McDonald



Leadership displays the virtues you might expect of a top diplomat: it is elegantly written, discreet and observant.’
Gideon Rachman, Financial Times

‘An enjoyable read packed with insights from someone who was ‘‘on the spot’’ when the United Kingdom responded to significant international challenges.
House Magazine

‘A deeply personal take on leadership’
Civil Service World




‘An original, very well-written, and serious book which adds to the quality of public discussion.
Anthony Seldon

This is a book full of riches – a despatch from deep inside the British state about how it really operates and how it could be run better.  In places, Simon McDonald wields his fluent pen like a blowtorch. His candour burns the page.  Some of the most eminent in the land will rush to the index. Some will be right to tremble if they find their name.
Peter Hennessy

‘The author’s observations are widely applicable and strengthened by a strong understanding of history.
The Edge, Malaysia


Thinking about leadership before you lead helps you to lead better. No matter the circumstances in which we might be called to lead – be it at work, on the sports field, or in the community – the example of top leaders in politics and public service (both their successes and shortcomings) can help you figure out your own approach.

Over nearly four decades in HM Diplomatic Service, Simon McDonald worked for four permanent under-secretaries and a dozen senior ambassadors before becoming permanent under-secretary himself and leading the Service (which as over nearly 14,000 staff in 270 posts worldwide) for five years. He also worked directly for six foreign secretaries and saw five prime ministers work at close quarters. Observing these people undertaking the most important and often the most difficult work in the country, McDonald saw the behaviours that helped them achieve their objectives, and those that hindered them. He then had the chance to apply try to apply that learning.

In a closing chapter that considers the future of leadership in the UK, Simon McDonald makes a compelling case for the reform of the monarchy, the cabinet, civil service, and, in particular, the House of Lords, of which he has been a member since 2021. Leadership of the United Kingdom is being debated as never before. This is book is a clear-sighted and insightful contribution to that debate.

SIMON MCDONALD was the British ambassador to Germany and later permanent under-secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and head of Diplomatic Service. He sits in the House of Lords as a crossbencher and, as of September 2022, is master of Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Follow Simon on Twitter @SimonMcDonaldUK



Read Simon’s interview with the i here.

Watch Simon’s interview with Andrew Marr for Tonight with Andrew Marr on LBC Radio here.

Watch Simon’s interview with Beth Rigby for Beth Rigby Interviews on Sky News.

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