06 March, 2007

Leadership and Accountability: Studies in Contrasts

Something that has puzzled me about the Walter Reed scandal--particularly the issue of Building 18--is that I refuse believe that the entire chain of command was indifferent to the conditions.

I think the upper leadership likely didn't know how bad things really were. Mind you, that doesn't excuse them because they are supposed to know, and not knowing is fundamentally their fault. That's what accountability is all about.

But why didn't they know? Because leadership is so much more than the ability to inspire people or point the way for them. The ability to judge character and evaluate competence is absolutely vital to effective leadership (then you know whether or not you can trust the work/reports of your subordinates, among other things). And how do you do that? By knowing your people, top to bottom.

I am reminded of my mother's experience. She works for a world-class management and customer service training company (the name would be instantly known to anyone in business management/leadership). She was first placed in the company through a temporary agency. The Boss/owner was a sought-after trainer/lecturer and had been out of town for awhile when she started to work.

Upon his return, Boss was walking through the offices and spotted her. "Who is this," he asked? The company was growing rapidly and was comprised of 60+ workers at that time, but he knew every one of them. He greeted her warmly, thanked her for helping out so-and-so, and asked with great sincerity how the work was going (and whether she needed anything).

Her reaction? "I want to work at a company like this!" She's been there over 20 years, now. They've hard their rough spots, but when Boss is been engaged with the company (as he usually is), good things happen and problems are solved. Because he is engaged, they know his values, they know his vision, and when something goes against those values and that vision, they know they can speak up. This is true leadership.

No matter how good or bad the leadership at WR was, they obviously didn't have that level of engagement with their subordinates. In the case of WR's two most recent leaders, MG Weightman and GEN Kiley, I'm beginning to suspect Weightman (in that position only six months) is the only one who could've possibly had it in him to be a true leader:

While Kiley deflected blame, Weightman freely admitted failure -- even though the victims of Walter Reed's neglect testified, and the House committee members agreed, that he was not to blame.

Throughout the hearing, Kiley spouted platitudes and evasions, not even turning to speak to a wounded family when prompted by a committee member.

Weightman, by contrast, turned around to the McLeods and spoke warmly, addressing Annette directly. "I'd just like to apologize for not meeting their expectations, not only in the care provided, but also in having so many bureaucratic processes that just took your fortitude to be an advocate for your husband that you shouldn't have to do," Weightman said, as Kiley finally turned to face the McLeods. "I promise we will do better."

Samples from Kiley's testimony:
"I don't do barracks inspections at Walter Reed."
"My staff informed me that the Walter Reed staff was working it."
"I don't get involved at my level . . . at an individual issue."

Pathetic, especially in an institution that prides itself in cultivating leadership skills. There's much, much more in a report of the hearings. A lesson in leadership... by contrast.

[H/T to Bull Nav at Op-For, who has some excellent commentary on the subject of military leadership.]