Leadership and Management Lessons in Life

Achieving success in any business career is predicated upon developing effective techniques of leadership and management. So it is no wonder that so much time, energy and money is expended on learning the secrets to effective leadership and management.

It has been said that making money expounding on leadership and management by writing books, consulting and developing curriculum for teaching has become a “cottage industry.” Wrong! It has become a “plantation industry!” And, for the most part, it’s been a cotton pickin’ waste!

From my perspective – and what I have discovered – is that the best way to learn the skills of leadership and management is not by reading business books (except, of course, the ones I have written), hiring consultants or going to business school. The best way to learn the effective techniques of leadership and management is by understanding history and observing how these skills (or failings) are applied in real life. It is not that one should not read books to learn – it is just that reading business books is not the best way to learn about business.

The way to learn leadership and management skills is to observe how they are used and abused in real life. Not only is such an approach the best way to learn, it is the fastest and least expensive way.

Here is an example of what I mean.

This week the media was full of stories about the resignation of Adm. Dennis Blair (left) as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The DNI job was created by Congress after the 911 attacks with the objective of trying to consolidate and coordinate all the intelligence gathered by some 11 different intelligence agencies into one coherent, actionable picture. The concept was logical and needed, because the collection of intelligence had become totally siloed within each bureaucratic intelligence agency and there was no way to effectively “connect the dots.”

And yet, the DNI effort has been a total failure with a passing parade of leaders. Admiral Blair is the third consecutive director to leave the office collared with the stigma of failure. Are we to assume that Admiral Blair and the three previous directors were poor leaders and ineffective managers or is there maybe a problem with the job itself? What can we learn from this real life experience that could help us become better leaders or managers?

There is a simple “teaching experience” here that can help all of us learn to

be more effective as a leader or manager. The Associated Press reported that all three previous leaders said the same thing about their experience and head of DNI, including John Negroponte, left, DNI head #2.  And that is that the job has “all the responsibility and none of the authority,” to do the job.

So what do we learn here?

Well, there are a few things. One, never accept a job that has a lot of responsibility without making sure that you have the clear authority to complete the job. You are going to find in business – especially those with a bureaucratic culture – that the style of many managers is to release all of the responsibility for a job and none of the authority to complete the job. This allows the bureaucratic manager to always duck blame for failure and pass it on to others.

In our DNI example, the directors were given the responsibility to coordinate the entire intelligence efforts of our government into one cohesive stream of information, without the authority to do so. Is it any wonder they failed?

One might wonder why these intelligent, experienced and previously successful individuals would be willing to take on a job that was pre-designed for failure. The answer, of course, is ego. John “Mike” McConnell, DNI puppet #1, and the rest were blinded by their egos and believed they could do a job that, quite simply, couldn’t  be done. If they had stood back and objectively recognized the dazzling weaknesses of the DNI job, they should have demanded the authority as well as the responsibility or refuse to take it. This is another lesson for all of us to learn.

On the other side of the coin, we will be more effective leaders and managers if, when we assign someone a task, we make sure that we pass along the authority as well as the responsibility for a job. And, that we are willing to assign the credit for a job well done. Only by doing so can we become true leaders.

There is a lesson in bureaucracy here as well. The failed heads of DNI were given responsibility over a group of highly entrenched bureaucracies. They failed to take into account that the number on priority of a bureaucratic group is protecting their turf. The last thing a bureaucracy will do is share what they know. That is because they fear that if they do, they will lose power or their reason for existence. Giving the Director of National Intelligence responsibility over the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and a myriad of other intelligence gathering bureaucracies with no authority over those agencies was no more than a facade.

In simple terms, if you are going to be given the job as “general manager” of a baseball team, but the owner of the team maintains the sole authority to make all player decisions, then you real job description should be “scapegoat.”

The only way the DNI job could ever work would be if the director is given the authority for funding and managing the bureaucracy of intelligence gathering. Neither of which was given. And, don’t hold your breath for this to happen. In all likelihood the next DNI will look and act more like the bureaucrats he is supposed to supervise. And all that will do is create a new bureaucracy which will result in giving the intelligence information even more layers to pass through.

Observing this “circle-jerk” is a great way to learn what not to do if we want to be an effective leader and manager.

And the Moral of the Story …

The most effective way to learn to be a strong leader and manager is to be a keen observer of how others lead and manage – or fail to lead and manage. This is not the theory of management books or the classroom, but the reality of life.

By doing so, we can speed up our learning curve and lead so much more effectively.

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