I once had a boss whose primary interaction with me consisted of telling me that I was at risk of having the rest of the organization judge me as being incompetent. In retrospect, while terribly painful at the time, I learned much more about leading -- and not leading -- from this person than I did from the best boss I ever had.
What did I learn from my pseudo Parris Island management experience? People may have positions of power, but that does not make them leaders. Leading makes them leaders.
Good leaders instill in their followers the belief that they can accomplish their task. They move obstacles out of the way and ensure that people are positioned correctly based on their talents and experience.
For a man known during the campaign for his calm manner and cool delivery, President Barack Obama has recently become hot and bothered. Earlier this month on the "Today" show, Obama said he talked to experts so he'd "know whose ass to kick" regarding the Gulf oil spill. This week, he became "angry" after reading a Rolling Stone article, "The Runaway General" by Michael Hastings, about Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
McChrystal was immediately summoned to Washington to presumably be taken to the woodshed by Obama.
While this flurry of emotion might placate those who believe Obama to be too cerebral, is it the response a leader should provide?
McChrystal, who has been married for 33 years, has seen his wife fewer than 30 days a year since 2003. He sleeps four hours a night and runs seven miles and eats one meal each day. Hastings wrote, "He speaks his mind with a candor rare for a high-ranking official. He asks for opinions, and seems genuinely interested in the response."
Unlike most generals, McChrystal has gone on dozens of nighttime raids in Iraq and Afghanistan. His soldiers are committed to him.
This week, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton has had to defend Obama's 39 golf outings since taking office (seven since the Gulf spill), saying it "does us all good as American citizens" for Obama to play golf.
Arriving this week from the dystopian battlefield of Afghanistan, McChrystal's descent into Washington, D.C., must have seemed more Vanity Fair than reality.
The beltway pundits focused their wrath on the disparaging remarks made by McChrystal, more often provided by his unnamed staff, rather than on the revealed reality of the war that might not be won.
One thing is clear, the military should not have allowed the reporter access to their private opinions. While improper, this can be fixed: The civilian public relations person has been fired, and McChrystal has apologized and has been replaced by Gen. David Petraeus.
The message is more sobering and harder to fix: The private opinions included in the article create a picture of an incompetent administration. _
This same incompetence was on display in an article titled "The Spill, the Scandal and the President," by Tim Dickinson, (Rolling Stone Magazine, June 24, 2010).
"Like the attacks by al-Qaida, the disaster in the Gulf was preceded by ample warnings -- yet the administration had ignored them," wrote Dickinson. "Instead of cracking down on MMS, as he had vowed to do even before taking office, Obama left in place many of the top officials who oversaw the agency's culture of corruption.
"On April 6th of last year, less than a month after BP submitted its application, MMS gave the oil giant the go-ahead to drill in the Gulf without a comprehensive environmental review ... issuing only a mild suggestion that would prove prescient: 'Exercise caution while drilling due to indications of shallow gas.'"
The article goes on to note the obvious mistakes on the BP application that apparently had not been thoroughly reviewed.
"It had taken a full week after Deepwater Horizon exploded for the government to become fully engaged -- a critical lapse that allowed the crisis to spiral out of control." During this time, Dickenson noted, Obama spent a weekend on vacation with the first lady eating ribs and staying at "the Grove Park Inn, a golf resort and spa."
The contrast between Obama's Vanity Fair and McChrystal's dystopia is vivid. Obama, by focusing on the comments attributed primarily by unnamed aides, appears more interested in disport than in leading. We need a commander in chief who not only holds the position of power, but also uses it to lead effectively.