From Dr. Charles M. Kelly of Tega Cay, a retired management
consultant and author of "The Destructive Achiever: Power and Ethics
in the American Corporation":
In her April 8 testimony, Condoleezza Rice repeatedly blamed
structural problems as the likely causes of our failure to
connect-the-dots of intelligence that might have prevented 9-11.
My experience with corporations suggests that problems of upward
and cross-unit communications usually are more a matter of
leadership philosophy and style than of the bureaucracy. Still, top
managements almost always blame the bureaucracy and the performance
of lower-level executives when serious communication failures hurt
For example, an organization having serious communication
problems may try to solve them by decentralizing. If done well, the
decentralization will usually improve conditions -- for six months,
or maybe a year. Then, the original problems surface again and the
organization is back where it started. Then it re-centralizes, and
conditions again get better, for a while.
The communication problems were never a matter of structure; they
were a result of leadership style. Each reorganization simply
rearranged relationships and everyone was aware of management's new,
but temporary, focus on the process. And the improvements lasted
just long enough for the old leadership style to reassert its
Compare the leadership styles of the Clinton and Bush
Any mistakes the Clinton administration may have made in fighting
terrorism were likely due to judgments resulting from the faulty
analysis of extensive data. Clinton's passion for ideas and
information from all sources is legendary. As the record indicates,
he sought inputs from all sources -- from all levels and functions
of government, and even from those who disagreed with him.
On the other hand, growing evidence (e.g., books by Richard
Clarke, John Dean, Paul O'Neill) suggests that the Bush
administration came into office with a predetermined agenda, and
chose to pursue that agenda almost to the exclusion of competing
ideas. They went through the motions of a comprehensive approach to
dealing with terrorism, but their leadership style didn't fit their
rhetoric, or even their published documents.
A corporation's "statement of mission" or "corporate philosophy"
always sounds like it came out of a management textbook. Problem is:
Published documents, and even public statements of top executives,
are almost irrelevant compared to leadership philosophy and style --
as evidenced by their actual behaviors.
In much the same way, a government administration will make sure
that it officially presents a textbook description of how it is
covering all the issues that are expected in governing. And, of
course, the Bush administration had a comprehensive plan for dealing
with terrorism. But its actions demonstrated to other levels and
functions of government what their real priorities were, and who was
to determine how they would be implemented.
Dick Cheney's comment that Richard Clarke was "not in the loop"
is suggestive of the insular nature of his openness to upward
communication. And when Rice said that none of Clarke's
recommendations would have prevented 9-11, she was referring to his
specific proposals to deal with terrorism. She failed to acknowledge
Clarke's constant requests for higher-level meetings, which could
have demonstrated top-level commitment to improving upward- and
When you have an ideologically driven administration with
predetermined priorities, you automatically have top-down and
fractured communication -- and a terrible problem-solving
For The Record offers commentaries from
various sources. The views are the writer's, and not necessarily
those of the Observer editorial board. Contact Charles Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.