October 2, 2014

5 Characteristics of Good Leadership

Rarely is the resignation of a leader as warranted as is today’s departure of Julia Pierson, the director of the United States Secret Service. The utter incompetence displayed by the Secret Service Presidential security detail is appalling and distressing to say the least. The fact that a disaster was avoided was shear luck. Who was in charge? Who was leading the Secret Service?

Five layers of so called security barriers were breached by a deranged man who first: climbed the fence surrounding the White House; second: made it across the White House lawn without even so much as a bark from the dogs; third: eluded roof top sharp shooters (what exactly are they doing on the roof of the White House if not shooting armed intruders?); fourth: ran through an unlocked front door; and fifth: disabled a female agent, running down a hall, before he was tackled by an off duty agent.

Yes, five layers of lame security were breached in what should have been the most secure building in the entire world. And surely there is a ton of expensive electronic technology - surveillance and alarm equipment… Do security alarms work if they are turned off?

Julia Pierson was the first woman to direct the Secret Service. She failed in what should have been the first priority of her job.  She was responsible, first and foremost,  for overseeing the protection of the White House, the First Family, and the leader of the free world, President Obama.

This is clearly and without a doubt a failure of leadership. The complete breakdown of the organization was evident to even the most casual observers – the American people. Ordinary citizens understand how completely we were betrayed by the failure to protect our most important leader, the President.

Assassinations are brutal and destructive. We cannot afford to go down that path again, and certainly not in one of the most symbolic shrines of freedom, the White House.

It is telling that the Department of Homeland Security will be conducting an internal inquiry of the Secret Service. Both Democrats and Republicans called for Pierson’s resignation. Senator Lindsay Graham accurately observed that this is “the worst possible signal to send to terrorists and our enemies around the world.”

Pierson was appointed after a huge scandal during a 2013 Presidential trip to Colombia where off duty agents had “entertained” prostitutes in their hotel room.

It can be assumed that the team that remains behind in the Secret Service is completely demoralized by yet another screw-up.

When there is a failure it is always about leadership. Joining an organization with bad leadership is like knowingly flying on an airplane with a drunken pilot. It doesn’t end well.

All organizations need high quality leadership. Leaders set the tone of an organization for good or for ill.

The employees who are left behind by Pierson’s departure will now have a taint on their records. They worked for the Secret Service, which now is the butt of late night TV - as Letterman chides, “don’t worry about parking - just hop the fence”.

Working for a bad leader or bad boss can be devastating to your career. Your career success depends on your reputation and the reputation of the organization you work for. Intel, Apple, HP, and Google employees get a huge bounce from their corporate image. Former Penn State, Lehman Brothers, Enron, and now Secret Service employees, on the other hand, have to figure out how to explain or hide who they worked for.

Payson Hall, President of Catalysis Group, believes that “an organization with good leadership has a clear mission and is free of fear. Everyone in the organization understands their role and no one fears reprisal if they ask questions or identify potential problems.” Regarding the recent organizational failure Hall said, “ Everyone at the White House is responsible for the safety of the President from the janitor to the chief of staff and everyone in between!”

Successful careers depend on working for successful organizations with good leaders.  Here is what to look for in the leadership of any company you would consider allowing to employ you:

5 Characteristics of Good Leadership:
  1. Good leaders inspire their employees with a clear organizational mission that is shared with everyone. You will find mission statements on company web sites – read them!
  2. Good leaders are engaged with their employees. They have open door policies. They welcome opportunities to interact and get ideas from their employees.
  3. Good leaders motivate their team by empowering them with the tools they need to perform their jobs effectively.
  4. Good leaders make sure that all of the team is well trained and well informed.
  5. Good leaders don’t shoot the messenger. No employee should fear speaking to management and reporting problems.