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D. Michael Lindsay
Scholar

D. Michael Lindsay

D. Michael Lindsay is a sociologist at Rice University and the author of Surveying America’s Leadership: A Study of the White House Fellows. He is also author of the acclaimed 2007 study, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite.

The 'accidental admiral' is our best hope in the Gulf

We witness good leadership around us every day, but sometimes the moment calls for something greater. Exceptional leadership can arise when a leader's talents and experiences uniquely befit a dire situation--when ability and opportunity align. NASA, for instance, was well served when Eugene Kranz directed the efforts of Mission Control to save the crew of Apollo 13.

Having served as the flight director for Apollos 7, 9, and 11 (including the moment when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon), Kranz had already earned the respect of his colleagues when he was called on to avert the impending tragedy. His tough, no-nonsense demeanor, succinctly captured in his mantra of "failure is not an option," set the tone in Houston during those tense days in 1970.

The BP oil spill that continues unabated in the Gulf of Mexico is more like the crisis our nation faced with Apollo 13 than with the Exxon Valdez catastrophe. Whatever solution is finally able to stop this disaster will only come from a leader who is both creative in his thinking and trustworthy in his character. Fortunately for us, Admiral Thad Allen is such a man.

Although he will be retiring as commandant of the Coast Guard later today, Allen will remain the federal government's point man for the BP oil spill for the foreseeable future. No one is better prepared for the job.

The Tucson native learned a great deal about the Gulf Coast when he was handpicked by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff as the principal official to coordinate Hurricane Katrina response after the embarrassing performance of FEMA Administrator Michael Brown.

A few years earlier, Allen had led the team that smoothly transitioned the Coast Guard into the newly formed Department of Homeland Security in 2003. Prior to that, Allen had organized the U.S. government's sea response on September 11, 2001. His creativity and resourcefulness had led him to move large Coast Guard cutters (normally reserved for high-sea patrols) to block the mouths of the Potomac River and every major port on the Atlantic coast.

Allen not only has the right experience; he also has the right disposition. Earlier this year, I spent time with the man who has spent 38 years in the Coast Guard and lived in 47 different residences. I interviewed the commandant and researched his life as part of a major study I am conducting on America's top leaders (the first part of which focused on the White House Fellowship).

Described by colleagues as cool and unassuming, Allen has remained unfazed by the positive press he's received for his handling of Katrina or by critiques of the Coast Guard during his watch. "I don't spend a lot of time in the regret locker," the 61-year-old told me.

Even with graduate degrees from George Washington University and MIT's Sloan School of Management and his mastery of American history (don't get him started talking about Alexander Hamilton), Allen retains the crustiness of a veteran sailor. He may be the only Coast Guard commandant in U.S. history who has been arrested twice (once for DUI and once, as a cadet, for fighting), and he acknowledges having to work to control his temper, especially as a young man. In fact, Allen told me that if he were to ever write a book about his life, its title would be "The Accidental Admiral."

Such traits might be liabilities for a college president or a CEO, but as the leader of over 50,000 "coasties," Allen is the perfect combination of physical toughness, intellectual curiosity, and unwavering conviction. He bikes 15 miles a day, reads widely, and has been married to Pam (an assistant dean at George Mason University) for nearly 35 years. He captained the football team during his senior year at the Coast Guard Academy, and he waxes eloquent about Peter Senge's philosophy of organizational change. Allen is equally at ease before new Coast Guard enlistees (his father joined as an enlisted man) as he is members of Congress.

But what makes him especially well suited for this final assignment is his seasoned expertise. Allen is decisive when necessary: He issued the order to bring Elian Gonzales onto U.S. soil when he learned the 5-year-old had developed hypothermia. But he is also deliberate and steady. "The more senior you become as a leader," Allen told me, "the more you have to manage your own morale." There is a reason the admiral inspires confidence and trust among his followers. He has little interest in crafting a personal legacy. He doesn't need to pull off another career success or impress his superiors. But that is precisely why if anyone can succeed in the Gulf of Mexico, Thad Allen will.

By D. Michael Lindsay

 |  May 25, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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A solution for containing the spill is simple and foolproof. The idea came to me as all great ideas do, and this spill can be stopped almost instantly. I'll be happy to share it with those who can and will give it consideration. This is not the time for experimenting as they have been. My idea will work, and all that needs to be done is to put it to the test. So who can I talk to so as to bring this disaster to an end?

Posted by: Richlewis1 | June 2, 2010 6:25 PM
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In light of the unprecedented disaster now affecting the Gulf of Mexico, it is reassuring to know that a man of Admiral Thad Allen's integrity is at the helm. Dr. Lindsay's timely article sheds light on Admiral Allen's approach to the job - "no nonsense" - which is just what we need at such a time as this.

Posted by: ssgreen12 | June 1, 2010 10:30 PM
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Whoa BIOTECHIEPATENTATTORNEY you need to relax. Maybe Lindsay is just very optimistic. Calling him a "useless sycophant" is completely unwarranted. Spare us your grudges.

I really don't see Allen in the news, just Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, but maybe he's doing something, or maybe there's nothing he can really do anyway...

Posted by: iamoutlier | June 1, 2010 4:25 PM
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Nice assessment of his background and some of the factors that led him to be an important leader. Will he be able to team effectively with others to stop this horrible disaster?

Posted by: ehe123 | May 28, 2010 10:39 AM
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Dr. Lindsay, Two weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing the leader of Shell Oil's offshore drilling department address the U.S. Chamber's mtg. (held in Houston). During his remarks (and outstanding display of graphics), the complexity of the drilling process and the high level of technology already involved was evident. I think you're likely correct in your appraisal of Admiral Allen, but not that there aren't brilliant people already involved. I think that the Admiral brings what was missing from Robert Owens’s New Harmony project--a leader that could manage the mélange of brilliance. I walked away from the session with Shell's leader (who had already jumped in to assist BP) realizing that amidst the caustic statements lodged against BP & the industry, there are some remarkable leaders involved (humble MENSA-types with humanitarian notions). And, unless I'm missing something here, they are likely glad Admiral Allen is involved. Thanks for the tribute. jp

Posted by: jerrypattengaleIndianaWesleyanUnivAsstProvost | May 28, 2010 7:13 AM
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What suck up fluff. I have no doubt that Allen will live up to Tucson's great Coast Guard tradition.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | May 28, 2010 3:07 AM
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As I said earlier, this is fluff written by a useless sycophant.

I voted for Obama. But I would not write a column on May 25th about what a great leader he is. Ditto Thad Allen.

No one in the government or Coast Guard is thoroughly questioning what is going on, and this type of fluff is akin to pinning a blue ribbon on the winner of last year's race.

Posted by: biotechiepatentattorney | May 27, 2010 10:31 PM
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As ever, Michael Lindsay provides a personal but balanced picture of his subject. The Admiral has a huge task, and a critical one. My father was in the Coast Guard, and I have a good friend who lost her home in Katrina and rebuilt. So, I have some idea of what this man has faced. Let's see if he can make this horrid situation better. He just may be the one to make it better sooner.

Posted by: rahmanson | May 27, 2010 6:07 PM
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Like Admiral Thad Allen's leadership, this profile on leadership is superbly written with the perfect balance of head and heart. Commentators sometimes straddle the fence of ambiguity when describing public figures such as Admiral Allen, but Lindsay's support for this supreme leader is as refreshing as it is accurate and insightful. Thanks for sharing your unique perspective on this one-of-a-kind leader.

Posted by: ahoward65 | May 27, 2010 3:50 PM
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Excellent and insightful article from Professor Lindsay! He is truly in touch with the leaders of today. This is a situation that demands exceptional leadership, and it sounds like Admiral Allen has those qualities.

Posted by: mvanhoozer | May 27, 2010 10:19 AM
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Not a great column, a fluff column.

This is day 38, with no visible clean up plan and video news footage of at least one member of the coast guard yelling at reporters that BP is making the rules about where reporters can be.

Perhaps the Admiral was the epitome of leadership in Katrina, but only a Sociology (the epitome of fluff) Professor could write this drivel on May 25.

Tell us, Professor Lindsay, WHAT he IS doing NOW and perhaps save some credibility.

Posted by: biotechiepatentattorney | May 27, 2010 9:42 AM
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Great column. At last — a wave of hope amidst a tide of despair.

Posted by: marvknox | May 27, 2010 8:57 AM
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interesting article to give credence to specific personal values as a platform for notable public leadership prowess. I wish more of our leaders could learn from Admiral Allen and George Costanza and "go out on a high note."

Posted by: PriceH3 | May 26, 2010 10:53 PM
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Thanks so much for this article. I really enjoyed reading the thought provoking article on our Leader of the Coast Guard. The BP disaster is formidable, and it's great to know a little bit about who we have working in a key role to right the ship. I especially enjoyed the comments about the specific good and bad life events that formed his persona. Because of these traits, Thad Allen seems like the right man for a time such as this. I really appreciate the way Lindsay is able to give insight into Allen's personal life that specifically relates to his leadership in this crisis.

By the way, I continue to find myself seeking to read much that Lindsay writes. He is a trustworthy, fellow and truth-teller that is having great impact in our world.

Posted by: BESTJeff | May 26, 2010 7:21 PM
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Great article. Makes me wonder what helped shape the Admiral early on to become the person he is.

Posted by: MarkW8 | May 26, 2010 5:55 PM
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Great article about a great leader. Very encouraging to have a man of integrity in this position.

Posted by: scottbarr | May 26, 2010 5:44 PM
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Professor Lindsay again cuts through the clutter and provides a clear picture of what’s needed during this time of crisis. We can only hope Admiral Allen has the same ability to effectively lead the process of finding solutions to this mess while navigating both governmental and giant corporate bureaucracies as Lindsay has in illustrating Allen’s leadership skills.

Stuart Kellogg/Madison, MS

Posted by: MSKellogg | May 26, 2010 3:22 PM
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It appears that there's not exactly consensus in these comments regarding whether Thad Allen is a competent leader. So should we make that determination on the basis of what happens in his latest job? Does plugging the hole quickly make him a good leader, or do additional failed attempt to cap the hole make him a bad one? Of course, either of these things could happen with little involvement from him. How then do we assess a leader's effectiveness independently from the outcomes of their projects?

Other takeaway from the piece: If you want a happy marriage when you put in work hours like Thad does and still find time to bike 15 miles a day, it helps to have a spouse that is a Dean.

Posted by: jba97 | May 26, 2010 2:52 PM
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General Allen's list of accomplishments is truly extraordinary. However, the oil spell may require more than mere naval and leadership to fix. The deadly mixture of various chemicals in oil with the water can have long lasting effects on both sea life as well as humans who utilize the oceans for a multitude of different tasks. Cleaning up a spill of this magnitude requires a diverse team of professionals who are well versed in their respective fields. However, true change must come from the top to prevent these horrific disasters to occur in the future.

Posted by: prepsucks69 | May 26, 2010 1:39 PM
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True leadership is a rare quality and Lindsay has aptly described its qualities in Admiral Allen. Situations create opportunities for leaders, Allen is the kind of man that we need in this looming catastrophe. We wish him well and with God's blessing, he will succeed.

Posted by: Sambo | May 26, 2010 1:20 PM
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True leadership is a rare quality and Lindsay has aptly described its qualities in Admiral Allen. Situations create opportunities for leaders, Allen is the kind of man that we need in this looming catastrophe. We wish him well and with God's blessing, he will succeed.

Posted by: Sambo | May 26, 2010 1:19 PM
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True leadership is a rare quality and Lindsay has aptly described its qualities in Admiral Allen. Situations create opportunities for leaders, Allen is the kind of man that we need in this looming catastrophe. We wish him well and with God's blessing, he will suceed.

Posted by: DottyS | May 26, 2010 12:28 PM
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Thank you, Professor Lindsay for again serving us, the general public, so excellently by your superb writings. What wonderful incite You give us about Admiral Thad Allen at just the right time to give us the hope we need. And thanks Admiral Allen for all you have done and will continue to do to serve our country in such commendable and outstanding ways.

Posted by: DottyS | May 26, 2010 12:21 PM
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Thank you, Professor Lindsay for again serving us, the general public, so excellently by your superb writings. What wonderful incite You give us about Admiral Thad Allen at just the right time to give us the hope we need. And thanks Admiral Allen for all you have done and will continue to do to serve our country in such commendable and outstanding ways.

Posted by: DottyS | May 26, 2010 12:18 PM
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Thank you, Professor Lindsay for again serving us, the general public, so excellently by your superb writings. What wonderful incite You give us about Admiral Thad Allen at just the right time to give us the hope we need. And thanks Admiral Allen for all you have done and will continue to do to serve our country in such commendable and outstanding ways.

Posted by: DottyS | May 26, 2010 12:09 PM
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Thank you, Professor Lindsay for again serving us, the general public, so excellently by your superb writings. What wonderful incite You give us about Admiral Thad Allen at just the right time to give us the hope we need. And thanks Admiral Allen for all you have done and will continue to do to serve our country in such commendable and outstanding ways.

Posted by: DottyS | May 26, 2010 11:56 AM
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i think we can all agree, and pray that Admiral Allen succeeds at stemming the tide of this catastrophe. Seems like from the profile, he has built a career on being a cool, un-politicized head in crisis situations.

Posted by: werdden90 | May 26, 2010 11:54 AM
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If past history is an indicator of success, Thad Allen should be up to the job of a remedy for the oil spill. We should be hopeful rather than in despair.

Posted by: dmeyer1 | May 26, 2010 11:51 AM
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Thank you, Professor Lindsay for again serving us, the general public, so excellently by your superb writings. What wonderful incite You give us about Admiral Thad Allen at just the right time to give us the hope we need. And thanks Admiral Allen for all you have done and will
continue to do to serve our country in such commendable and outstanding ways.

Posted by: DottyS | May 26, 2010 11:21 AM
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Thank you, Professor Lindsay for again serving us, the general public, so excellently by your superb writings. What wonderful incite You give us about Admiral Thad Allen at just the right time to give us the hope we need. And thanks Admiral Allen for all you have done and will continue to do to serve our country in such commendable and outstanding ways.

Posted by: DottyS | May 26, 2010 11:16 AM
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Thank you, Professor Lindsay for again serving us, the general public, so excellently by your superb writings. What wonderful incite You give us about Admiral Thad Allen at just the right time to give us the hope we need. And thanks Admiral Allen for all you have done and will continue to do to serve our country in such commendable and outstanding ways.

Posted by: DottyS | May 26, 2010 11:08 AM
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A leader leads by example, whether he intends to or not.

Posted by: isaacshi | May 26, 2010 11:05 AM
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Thank you, Professor Lindsay for again serving us, the general public, so excellently by your superb writings. What wonderful incite You give us about Admiral Thad Allen at just the right time to give us the hope we need. And thanks Admiral Allen for all you have done and will continue to do to serve our country in such commendable and outstanding ways.

Posted by: DottyS | May 26, 2010 11:03 AM
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Thanks for these insights into Admiral Allen's leadership abilities. At last, a tiny wave of hope in this sea of oil.

Posted by: marvknox | May 26, 2010 10:53 AM
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Thank you, Professor Lindsay for again
serving us, the general public, so excellently by your superb writings. What wonderful incite You give us about Admiral Thad Allen at just the right time to give us the hope we need. And thanks Admiral Allen for all you have done and will continue to do to serve our country in such commendable and outstanding ways.

Posted by: DottyS | May 26, 2010 10:52 AM
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Thanks for the insight into the man who has a tremendous chalenge before him. I hope all involved will help him succeed.

Posted by: awalters | May 26, 2010 9:23 AM
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Looking forward to your new book, Michael!

Posted by: ThoughtfulChristian | May 26, 2010 9:08 AM
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Dr. Lindsay, Your profile of Admiral Allen provides insights into what molded him as a leader. It's striking how every experience of his life equips him for the enormous task in front of him and the courage and focus it will demand.

Posted by: laurasorrell | May 26, 2010 8:54 AM
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He's getting a late start. It's good for him that he has nothing to prove, but bad for us that he isn't really in charge--just responsible for the outcome. God help him, because it doesn't look like Obams or BP is doing anything for him.

Posted by: Jocas | May 26, 2010 2:26 AM
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Excellent profile of Admiral Allen. Written with the knowledge of one who has truly researched his subject, supported by a personal interview. Interesting and informative....Good Job as usual by D. Micheal Lindsay.

Posted by: janetclare | May 26, 2010 12:45 AM
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Thanks for this compelling profile. Let's hope he demonstrates what an effective leader, backed by the power of the government, can accomplish. At this point much of it seems out of his hands or beyond his reach.

Posted by: pwbecker | May 25, 2010 11:47 PM
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Thanks to Michael Lindsay for a characteristically clear and insightful view. Applying the best of leadership should help make effective use of all the technology and the resources that can be brought to bear, but in my view it would be a mistake to assume that good leadership alone can assure “success in the Gulf” (whatever that may now be understood to be).

Posted by: ronsmith95 | May 25, 2010 11:44 PM
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Thanks, Michael, for a thoughtful, well-written article, which profiles a true leader/hero. After reading about the "accidental admiral", I have hope that the nightmare in the gulf may soon be managed appropriately.

Posted by: Tommye_Lou_Davis | May 25, 2010 11:11 PM
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As someone who spent his high-school years in Tucson's desert climate, I find it ironic that one of our own became top brass of the Coast Guard. Or maybe that's what drove him to a maritime career.

Posted by: dneff | May 25, 2010 11:01 PM
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Integrity is essential to effective leadership, and Admiral Allen has demonstrated both integrity and leadership through many years of service to his country. Dr. Lindsay offers hope and encouragement with his insightful article. He is to be commended, as is the Post for publishing such a timely perspective.

Posted by: Gariton | May 25, 2010 10:19 PM
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Well written article which reminds us that the solution to the problem will come from a different kind of leadership than what we have seen from BP. Let's hope that Thad Allen is the man who can bring that kind of leadership and creative problem solving into the mix. We need it and we need it quickly!

Posted by: BSM1 | May 25, 2010 10:16 PM
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thanks for profiling someone in such an important position.
I'd be curious to know how leaders in relevant scientific communities are being brought in to think about how to respond to such an unprecedented catastrophe.

Posted by: chcrouch | May 25, 2010 8:55 PM
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The real test for a leader is not during peace and tranquility; it is during war and crisis. Only the fortunate ones, like ADM Allen, have the opportunity to go through the test -- or fire -- to show that they are made of steel and not just iron. Allen's personal success in dealing withe BP oil spill is our common success. We happen to live on the same planet and country with him!

Posted by: kienpham | May 25, 2010 8:37 PM
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Truly an inspiring article about "old school" integrity in leadership. Very well written and succinct. I would love to see it developed into a biography or compiled with multiple other minibiographies into a current day leadership profile. I've read Michael's Faith in the Halls of Power and enjoyed it, immensely.
As to the Gulf, the ultimate heroes and scapegoats will be further researched and glorified/sacrificed. We will blame and then we will sue. It's America. That's what we do.

Posted by: asteele53 | May 25, 2010 8:28 PM
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Interesting perspective on an under-reported part of the story. Kudos to the author and to WP.

Posted by: woogapdx | May 25, 2010 8:24 PM
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Interesting perspective on an under-reported part of the story. Kudos to the author and WP.

Posted by: woogapdx | May 25, 2010 8:20 PM
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Great article! Somebody needs to focus on the Gulf Crisis and get a handle on BP. It seems as if everyone is in slow motion to find a fix. This is not a sit back and see kind of approach.

The Gulf Coast we have a problem.......... I do hope that Admiral Thad Allen is our man who will act quickly and swiftly to end this disaster.

Posted by: juliewestu | May 25, 2010 7:52 PM
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This is a refreshing addition to the public dialogue. With so many challenges and scandals in the news right now, I wish we had more such calls to a productive public service.

Posted by: jqa1781 | May 25, 2010 7:50 PM
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Timely and insightful. Good to hear some hopeful news coming out of the Gulf for a change. Sounds like Admiral Allen is just the leader we need to address this unique challenge.

Posted by: pmundey | May 25, 2010 6:58 PM
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Nice work, Michael. Thanks for sharing. Maybe Admiral Allen needs to garner up some of that temper, share it with others in high places, and harness it to beat this disaster?!

Posted by: mckeeverk | May 25, 2010 6:49 PM
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A tremendous report by Michael Lindsay, succinctly expressed but in a manner that is accessible to everyone who leads or aspires to lead in business, the military, or on the "fields of friendly strife" in athletics. So much is said in just a few paragraphs about the path to seasoned leadership...and it nearly always includes overcoming obstacles and adversity. Really well done.

Posted by: MikeFenzel | May 25, 2010 6:27 PM
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Lindsay's timely essay certainly boosts my confidence in the leadership surrounding this rapidly growing problem. This is a highly complex issue that calls for exceptional and creative leadership. In this regard, I hope that Allen reaches out beyond normal channels of communication in search of creative solutions. I gather that those close to the problem (the usual suspects) are stumped; all the more reason to reach out to many interested and creative minds (the unusual suspects).

Posted by: dnino | May 25, 2010 6:15 PM
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Well written piece describing the qualifications of someone used to managing large operations. Good to know that Adm. Allen has both the experience and demeanor to address this tragic accident. Hopefully he is being given every resource to manage the task at hand. Now if only the federal politicians would get out of the way......

Posted by: phil413 | May 25, 2010 5:16 PM
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A thought provoking piece on one of the principal responders to this environmental, governmental, and economic disaster. My fear, however, is that because BP and other oil companies' technology for drilling has far outpaced responsible, comparable procedures of safety, there is little that Admiral Allen and others can do. Don't know how ocean-bottom conditions can affect even an outlier event? Then don't drill. Perhaps like 9-11 (one of the events Dr. Lindsay mentions in Admiral Allen's past professional experience), this oil-drilling debacle can be traced back to a "failure of imagination" (which one profound cultural critic described as blinding US government officials from connecting the dots before that fateful September day). Yet this scenario was neither an outlier nor unexpected: the safety mechanism which was designed to prevent it failed. The fault lies with the industry for not having at least two other backup plans. Ludovico1's comment above may be exactly right that someone with oil drilling/engineering expertise is who is REALLY needed at this moment to troubleshoot all angles and think outside the box. But are there any such people with the requisite know-how & creativity who are independent of this intrinsically *violent* industry? (See Slavoj Zizek's chilling definition of objective violence, which precisely describes this BP disaster.)

Posted by: kmc_villanova | May 25, 2010 5:05 PM
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He's going to need all that experience. Good report.

Posted by: albionx | May 25, 2010 4:59 PM
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Nice piece, Michael -- sounds like a capable official with lots of senior experience and capacity ... surely needed for a large-scale disaster like this one.

Posted by: JoshuaRGood | May 25, 2010 4:19 PM
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As a Mississippian with family "on the coast", I sincerely wish the "accidental admiral" success and hope it comes quickly. He is in line for the credit or the blame, but the real heroes for me will be the unknown hardhats with grease under the nails of the fingers they have left and the geeks who couldn't get a cool date because they were hanging out in the mechanical engineering lab. They will solve this, and we'll all be the smarter and safer for what they come up with. I hope Mr. Allen has gathered a solid group for whom failure is truly not an option and blaming not a virtue.

Posted by: fef3md | May 25, 2010 4:15 PM
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May the force be with him, and may all the fools get out of the way.

Posted by: Billy1932 | May 25, 2010 4:04 PM
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Wonderful portrait of Admiral Allen. Written with accuracy and obvious research supported by personal interview. Very informative and clear in the usual manner of D. Michael Lindsay....Good Job.

Posted by: janetclare | May 25, 2010 4:01 PM
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A timely contribution by Mr. Lindsay -- may the “accidental admiral" be just the man for this challenging job, and teach us all something about stepping up in difficult times.

Posted by: jkingston3 | May 25, 2010 3:44 PM
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As usual, Michael Lindsay does an excellent job of producing thought-provoking discussion on a subject that affects us all as Americans. I am pleased that Thad Allen is at the helm of the disaster but agree that the time to get the job done was yesterday. I like the comparison to Eugene Krantz. What a true leader! Maybe that inspire Allen to fulfill this mission.

Posted by: libertyland | May 25, 2010 3:40 PM
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Good to see we have seasoned leadership for this challenging job.

Posted by: bwichterman | May 25, 2010 3:25 PM
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Interesting article -- thanks for this profile.

Posted by: tylerws | May 25, 2010 3:15 PM
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This well-crafted profile deftly highlights the human side of leadership. While Admiral Thad Allen showed steady, unfaltering leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he is culpable for the Coast Guard's uninspiring immediate reaction to the spill.

By downplaying the severity of the accident and acting to shield BP from criticism, Admiral Allen has not yet shown the decisive leadership that he is clearly capable of demonstrating. The Coast Guard's mission is to protect the coastline, not to protect the profits of a multinational corporation which has mismanaged the spill and misled the public about its extent -- we can only hope that the Admiral will use his position to hold BP accountable.

Posted by: PDXOwl | May 25, 2010 3:03 PM
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I don't understand how the top public official that's in charge of responding to oil spills does not have any training in the entirety of his illustrious career in offshore drilling. To compare Adm. Allen to Eugene Kranz is absurd. Eugene Kranz had first hand experience and knowledge of the technology aboard the space shuttle.

Posted by: Ludovico1 | May 25, 2010 3:01 PM
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Let's hope that the Admiral understands "the fierce urgency of now"! It is remarkable to me that the public, via the media, have taken so long to become impatient. We now see a great deal of critical stories about BP, but it has taken a long time, and the criticism remains largely bad publicity. Where are the calls for boycotts or other economic force to apply to BP? I do not believe this debacle should be blamed on the Obama administration, but it needs to press harder on BP to find a fix. Thanks for this article.

Posted by: dhicks67 | May 25, 2010 2:35 PM
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Admiral Allen seems like a qualified choice to lead these efforts - he's certainly been on the ground during other crises of great magnitude. Let's hope his leadership can help bring some closure to this nightmare sooner rather than later!

Posted by: dedwards2 | May 25, 2010 2:27 PM
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Great article! Glad to have a man of this caliber in charge of the BP mess. Gives me confidence it will be done quickly and thoroughly with no shortcuts.

Posted by: mikemcgown | May 25, 2010 2:26 PM
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Interesting characterization and well written but I've lost confidence in senior leadership, regardless of service or government agency. Our ship is sailing without a rudder. The latest Gulf disaster is just another example of finger pointing and denial by those paid to demonstrate leadership in the darkest hours. Where have you gone Ronald Reagan?

Posted by: Niteflyer | May 25, 2010 2:23 PM
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It is a measure of the man that he is willing to take this on now. Few challenges promise to be more vexing or - pardon the term - toxic than this one. Blessings to him indeed.

Posted by: johndavidkuo | May 25, 2010 2:18 PM
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The oil spill crisis truly calls for a great leader. Thanks Lindsay for this illustration of an important figure to our country.

Posted by: reader241 | May 25, 2010 2:17 PM
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Another on point real time report from Lindsay. This type of information makes news interesting.

Posted by: posttwo | May 25, 2010 2:08 PM
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The Admiral is being played like a puppet on a string by BP. I’ll bet when he leaves the Coast Guard hell have a cushy job with BP. This is Britons revenge for Yorktown. We are just ignorant colonials, which is true because, we let BP take charge from Transocean who is and was the owner of the Deepwater Horizon and the well was part of that vessel when it sank. Thus Under the Law Transocean is responsible for the clean up not BP. BP has wasted a month trying to salvage the well instead of closing it. If we want an oil company to stop the leak we should have chosen an American one and the well would have been closed weeks ago. The only expertise BP and their engineers have is causing disasters. BP has been lying to us from the start first about not having a leak to vastly understating the size. Now BP is busy secretly modifying the records so they can pass the blame to some one else, anyone else. Look out GOD it’s going to be all your fault. I am sure glad Briton has sent some of their boats to help clean up, wait a minute they haven’t. I hope a lot of the spill makes it to the Atlantic currents and covers England’s beaches as well.

Posted by: thasam | May 25, 2010 2:02 PM
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I cannot blame the Admiral for not wanting to charge into the juggernaut that is BP. Consider that BP's lack of safety oversight and in my opinion disregard for their workforce disaster in Texas City. I believe we can thank the previous administration for deregulation and the cozy relationship with all segments of energy (KBR(Iraq thieves), and Halliburton among others. Mining safety is being ignored and now another BP snafu, we need to focus on the root cause, in order to advert another environmental disaster attributed to unabated energy companies.

Posted by: ewamoon | May 25, 2010 1:12 PM
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Respectfully, Allen has not given me any confidence whatsoever that the federal government is doing all it can to respond to the oil spill. Allen has done nothing but talk about the leak and how BP is doing all it can. Well what about protecting the coastline and valuable natural resources that stand to be devastated by this oil? Where is the massive federal response to that part of this disaster - which is where, after all, the real damage is done. If this happened off of New York harbor, I guarantee the response would have been different. Just like everyone else in this response, Allen is missing the point.

Posted by: superchuck500 | May 25, 2010 12:54 PM
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Thad Allen is Obama's Brownie.

Posted by: democratus | May 25, 2010 12:33 PM
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Mr.Jameschirico. The weeds and grass might come back but all the little critters and sea life that depends on the marshes for spawning wont be. It could take a century for the Gulf fisheries to recoverif at all, if much more of the marshes get damaged. The oil spill will be washing up on the shores of the Gulf for decades because of the irresponsible use of dispersants. There is oil spill at all depths in the Gulf now because of dispersants. BP thinks we are all stupid. BP's new motto for the Gulf is "out of sight out of mind".

Posted by: thasam | May 25, 2010 11:59 AM
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Adm. Allen seems to have a record well-suited to leading the coast guard in this crisis, and my hopes are all for his success. One of the most important leadership skills Adm. Allen will need to deploy is the skill of a generalist: one who can work well not only in his own area of expertise, the Coast Guard, but also in a setting where he has to deal with a large corporate culture. Much time and work goes into building an efficient relationship between the companies and the military.

Posted by: worry22 | May 25, 2010 11:56 AM
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This is an interesting way to end his career – I hope he can go out strong, because this disaster desperately needs him too.

Posted by: JonEndean | May 25, 2010 11:56 AM
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The Jindahl plan to create islands or reefs is not feasible with the available equipment to ever be completed in time to have an effect. We could start immediately to have depth markers in shallow marsh waters along the gulf coast to allow bulldozers (plentiful) create a 4 foot berm at water heights that won't stall the equipment. The marsh growth is highly absorbent and would grow back quickly. The deeper undergrowth areas not supporting this equipment could have people lay plywood down to enable bulldozer soil movement over same. This may cost half a trillion but the long term damage by this disaster is multiples of that amount. The new NOAA oil spill response program (end of this March) was designed for shallow water spills without enough boom nor resources needed for a deepwater disaster. The deepwater industry response technology has not improved since 1980 with only drilling another well the only proven response. Secy Chu immediately started a team of experts to discuss solutions with a 1 hour daily meeting with BP engineers to address new idea implementation. The gamma ray picture of the BOP and today's testing of pressure in lines has enabled this new procedure on Wed. to stop the flow. Not forcing the newest technology and safety features in new wells also had a hand in this disaster (no acoustical BOP). The cost of this is nominal compared to a rigs income. In fact a dual BOP stacked on top of each other would be good policy insuring against the failure of one.

Posted by: jameschirico | May 25, 2010 11:25 AM
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The idea that not all leaders have it all together is very interesting and insightful. Super-human leaders are extremely rare and possibly less effective because nobody can relate to them.

It's not surprising that Allen is shying away from the task because it appears to have been a nightmare for everybody else so far. We should be supportive of these efforts and not attacking.

Posted by: rassi2 | May 25, 2010 11:02 AM
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Glad to see they're keeping the Admiral on this despite the change of command.

Posted by: mghagercchs | May 25, 2010 10:53 AM
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Thanks for shedding a personal light on this crisis. In a journalistic era of "takedowns" of leaders, it's great to read about someone that commands our respect.

Posted by: buckoneil | May 25, 2010 10:51 AM
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Last night as I watched and listened to Admiral Allen on the PBS Newshour, I concluded this is not a person I would follow into battle of any kind. And, I certainly wouldn't choose him as a partner for a game of 8-ball if enlisted men were swilling beer in the same joint.

To me, the good Admiral came off as a buck-passing bureaucrat.

He may be a good administrator, but I know leaders and my opinion is this Admiral fall short...real short.

Leaders are the first to "go up the hill"; they are willing to take the first shot...the Admiral -- based on last night's interview -- doesn't want to touch any part of the oil leak remediation or want any part of the real work under his command. He wants, like the rest of the administration, congress and government, this problem to remain exclusively BP's.

The gummint is standing by stupified (little Abner's term) and layiong claim to the authority "to make sure BP is doing everything right".

It's just that government doesn't want any responsibility for the outcome. Hmm...you should know you can't have one without the other.

Unfortunately, this is becoming too frequent among the appointees and shakers and movers in President Obama's admistration. Don't get me wrong, I like the president, I voted for him, but I don't like the people he has choosen for advise and to implement his policies.

Leaders are comfortable with taking risk...Obama has surrounded himself with uppity, pedigreed, high-brows who are swell at laying off blame...

There's a difference you know...between taking resposibility and laying off blame.

I can help but wonder why it is that the WaPo editors, and writers, and for that matter most urbanites, tend to worship pedigree over substance, and education over character.

We saw a form of the misplaced worship happen following 9/11 when Mayor Giuliani wore his 10-cent basement-cleaning-mask as if it were a real respirator. For people in the know, like me, a person who knows a hzardous waste event when he sees one, the press and Giuliani were in it for a photo-op. They may not have realized this at the time, which doesn't make them innocent, it makes them ignorant and all the more dangerous.

Mayor Giuliani wearing that 10-cent mask was pegged as "leadership".

Well, good luck to all of you high-brow city dwellers! Society will soon realize your definitions of leadership and power based on educational pedigrees and bestowed title... are useless pieces of paper.

Paper tigers...

Posted by: Vunderlutz | May 25, 2010 10:36 AM
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Insightful look into the qualities of real leadership.

Posted by: concord104 | May 25, 2010 10:36 AM
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 24% of the nation's voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Forty-four percent (44%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -20.

Posted by: AbuseOfPower | May 25, 2010 10:33 AM
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Allen isn't leaving because he's "getting off the Obama boat" or being forced out. It's because his term is up. Commandants are appointed for four years, and he began in May 2006. Of course, it is awkward timing with the greatest natural disaster in US History, hence remaining involved in this situation, but it's also not clear to me what the Coast Guard is doing or can do about this anyway...

Posted by: iamoutlier | May 25, 2010 10:25 AM
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I wouldn't want to base my credibility and preparedness for anything upon the federal government's accomplishments during the post-Katrina response period. At this late date, history may still view Mike Brown as the only federal official who made a real difference.

As for the future of BP and its executives;

1) Hopefully, there is an ongoing criminal investigation, just as there is one for a coal mine disaster where lives were lost; and

2) time will not heal the environmental breaches BP has caused, so the government's criminal response here should be held in abeyance until the flow of oil from the Deepwater Horizon well(s) is stopped, then bring out the cuffs!

Posted by: connerabr | May 25, 2010 9:05 AM
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All aboard the Obama Fail-boat! Next destination, Election November leaving from the Gulf of Mexico.

General boarding announcement: The bumps that you feel during our trip to the election will be the bodies of my Secretaries and other staff that we'll be throwing overboard. Do not be alarmed, we won't throw the general public overboard until after November.

Posted by: waterloom | May 25, 2010 9:04 AM
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Commodore Thad Allen seems like a typical government mediocrity, reward him to get him to leave, make him feel indispensible to get him to leave and when he really is leaving, then coax him back to mess up something else, Katrina II, well done.

Posted by: rufkd | May 25, 2010 9:03 AM
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Why hasn’t the Coast Guard arrested BP officials for illegally dumping hazardous chemicals in the Gulf after the EPA told them to stop. Hazardous chemical dumping is a criminal offence. I guess the British are now running America Because BP is thumbing their nose at the US Government? The oil spill was caused by the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon which is owned by Transocean not BP so why is BP in charge and not Transocean? Do I have to point out that the well was a integral part of Deepwater Horizon and therefore Transocean is the Company responsible for the cleanup. That’s why Transocean is in court in Texas to limit their liability. Just wait and see BP will eventual say it wasn’t our responsibility sue Transocean and of course the Tax payers will have to foot the total bill. Wakeup Washington. All we get is a runaround and : Hearings! Hearings! Nero (Obama) fiddles while Rome Burns (the Gulf dies).

Posted by: thasam | May 25, 2010 7:36 AM
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Typical American expecting the gubgermint to do everything, get over yourself!

Posted by: writedave | May 25, 2010 6:53 AM
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It is amazing how little the government has done to contain the oil slick, since neither the Fleet nor the Coast Guard is otherwise employed.

BP must of necessity handle the technicals of shutting down the well, but the slick is decisively the government's responsibility to control.

Posted by: donx65 | May 25, 2010 6:40 AM
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