Turnarounds and political appointments

January 6, 2009

I am watching with interest the controversy swirling around the proposed appointments of Leon Panetta and Sanjay Gupta. Although I do not have enough information to know whether either man is actually right for his proposed job, one thing I know with certainty is that when a dramatic turnaround is needed, that turnaround is almost always best achieved by bringing in a new, effective leader from outside the organization.

In my experience, people within the organization who are capable, competent, and eager for constructive change will welcome and support the efforts of the new leader; those who are not, will not. A strong leader, with the support of the entity’s board of directors can deal with both effectively.

Of course, implementing change within the federal bureaucracy is incredibly challenging. (For a humorous but insightful take on this topic, read Locked in the Cabinet, by Robert Reich.)