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Michael Maccoby
Scholar

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

Intel community in search of a purpose

Q: This week's Washington Post investigative series on the government's burgeoning intelligence network prompts the question: Can an organization get so big and so complex that it just can't be managed effectively? Or is "too-big-to-manage" just a cop-out for flawed structure and lack of leadership?

Large organizations can be managed if they are well organized. When the Bell System was a monopoly with one million employees, it was effectively managed. Its purpose, to provide universal telephone service, and its definition of results, measured for service and profitability, were understood by all employees.

I sense that the problem with our sprawling government intelligence network is not its size, but confusion about the purpose of the work reflected in an unwieldy organization.

Recently, in one of my leadership workshops, I asked participants to describe the purpose of their leadership. A manager of a group at one of the intelligence agencies said it was to analyze certain information and produce excellent reports. Together with many other reports, his reports land on the desk of decision-makers who must determine what is important enough to act on.

No wonder that many of the "customers" of these reports feel overloaded with information. Imagine if the purpose of the group was to help the users of information to make better decisions. Implementing this purpose would require close communication between analyzers and decision-makers to determine whether information calls for action.

In the private sector, a natural limit to production is determined by customer demand. But there is no natural limit to the amount of intelligence that can be analyzed and put into reports. An effective and efficient intelligence service depends on people with the skill to see dangerous patterns in masses of information and translate them into useful knowledge for decision makers. This will not be done by entry-level bureaucrats but requires analysts who understand the context of the information and can sense what may be important.

Reorganizing the government's intelligence network would be a Herculean task. The only way to begin is to start with the decision-makers, what they need, and work backwards to design an organization with skilled analysts who will equip them to strengthen national security.

By Michael Maccoby

 |  July 20, 2010; 5:47 AM ET
Category:  Government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: A bitter lesson we haven't learned | Next: Where big doesn't have to mean bad

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