On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti


Archive: Bad leadership

Is Gray's investigation independent enough?

Gray would have done better to call for an investigation by a party completely unrelated to his campaign. It is only someone in that position who can act with complete credibility and ask the bigger questions--if the matter turns out to be true--about what led it to happen in the first place.

By Jena McGregor | March 7, 2011; 12:58 PM ET | Comments (25)

A big fish's big wake: What Rajat Gupta's insider trading charges mean for McKinsey

Of all the fish the SEC has caught in the vast insider trading probe it has been pursuing for many months now--or perhaps, some are saying, that have been hooked by accusations of securities law violations ever--none may be bigger than Rajat Gupta.

By Jena McGregor | March 1, 2011; 11:09 PM ET | Comments (7)

Dior to fire John Galliano over anti-Semitic remarks

While this approach may work well when the designer is loved and adored, it will only backfire if he or she does something as scandalous as what Galliano is alleged to have done. The designer becomes inextricably tied to the brand's success, making him or her that much harder to replace. And the same image-conscious celebrities who helped promote the label could begin to shun it, prompting the style-obsessed masses to do so too.

By Jena McGregor | March 1, 2011; 12:11 PM ET | Comments (47)

Ending the stalemate in Wisconsin

Is it better leadership for Walker, the Democratic senators and the union leaders--each in their own separate ways--to hold fast to their principles or find a third way that will bring a stalemate to the end? What is a more effective leadership skill: Steadfast adherence to one's beliefs or the ability to negotiate well?

By Jena McGregor | February 22, 2011; 11:33 AM ET | Comments (16)

Palin's milk joke goes sour

Who knows whether or not Palin will run for the nation's highest office. But if she does, comments like this one do little to make her sound presidential. For one, even if it was a joke, Palin was making light of something that has to do with the future of this country--the health and well-being of its children. And even if Palin spent most of the talk discussing deficits, health-care reform and foreign affairs, it's unnecessary side comments like these that will--whether she likes it or not--lead the news.

By Jena McGregor | February 18, 2011; 09:22 AM ET | Comments (1653)

Boehner's 'so be it' leadership

The president may not be winning any leadership medals for his budget dealings, but the opposition's leader isn't either.

By Jena McGregor | February 16, 2011; 01:08 PM ET | Comments (138)

Why form a debt commission? Obama's budget skirts asked-for advice

One has to wonder why the president would establish a panel of experts and seek their recommendations if their biggest proposals are to be ignored. At the very least, the president could offer a more complete explanation about why some of the commission's major proposals were not endorsed. Even better would have been to offer alternative ways to address some of the big spending areas--Social Security and Medicare, for instance--with equally big results.

By Jena McGregor | February 14, 2011; 10:13 AM ET | Comments (16)

The weight of Panetta's words

Panetta was right about one thing in his committee testimony. Even the best intelligence can't get you inside another leader's mind. "Our biggest problem is always: How do we get into the head of somebody?" he told members of Congress. Likewise, we won't know what it was in Panetta's head--excitement that a change could be coming, cold hard intelligence that turned out to be wrong or mere reiteration of media reports, as his aides say--that prompted him to make a statement that instantly set up expectations around the world.

By Jena McGregor | February 11, 2011; 10:10 AM ET | Comments (35)

The risks of drawing out Egypt's leadership transition

In a place as volatile as Egypt, such a drawn-out transition has the potential to be much, much worse. The much-needed reforms Mubarak has promised would have little weight. The expectation of seismic changes in the country's government could bring current operations to a standstill, inviting even more chaos.

By Jena McGregor | February 2, 2011; 02:32 PM ET | Comments (0)

FCIC report: What if the SEC paid like Goldman Sachs?

If regulators were incented to stop fraud and prevent future financial apocalypses on the same scale that traders were rewarded for selling worthless derivatives, we'd surely be in a very different place today. The best talent coming out of our best universities might not immediately be shipping off to Wall Street, but to Washington instead.

By Jena McGregor | January 28, 2011; 09:11 AM ET | Comments (28)

The real question to ask GE's Immelt about chairing the jobs council

How on earth will he have the time? This is a man who already runs one of the largest corporations on the planet, with some 300,000 employees and operations in more than 160 countries. Not only is he CEO of GE, but he is chairman of its board of directors too. Immelt is also on the board of The New York Federal Reserve Bank.

By Jena McGregor | January 24, 2011; 09:54 AM ET | Comments (8)

Health care 'repeal and replace': Wrong order?

Whatever you may think of the health care reform law--and even many supporters lament that it is flawed--it's a start to a deeply problematic systemic issue our country must face one way or another. Most would agree it needs amending in some fashion. And perhaps it's problematic enough that an entirely new piece of legislation would make sense. But leaders who want to improve upon it would do better to suggest alternatives first, and then work to overturn the problems later.

By Jena McGregor | January 20, 2011; 09:09 AM ET | Comments (53)

The 'dish' Boehner will miss

A leader at Boehner's level should actually want to take every opportunity to present a unified front to other countries--no matter how much we may disagree with some of their practices and policies--and to improve relations with someone who leads a country fast becoming this nation's largest global rival. Yes, Boehner is meeting with President Jintao later this week. But a social setting like Wednesday night's event offers unique opportunities for leaders to find commonalities, get to know each other as people and engage in additional dialogue. And the only way to grab them is to be there.

By Jena McGregor | January 19, 2011; 10:11 AM ET | Comments (211)

Finally, merit pay for auto workers?

A pay structure that only rewards seniority or job description does not do much to encourage people to work better, smarter and more efficiently on a day-to-day basis. Rather, it rewards people solely for sticking around. And as GM and Chrysler try to get out from under the government's investments, they will need their people--all of their people--to do a lot more than that.

By Jena McGregor | January 14, 2011; 10:07 AM ET | Comments (24)

Obama and Palin: Two responses at a time of crisis

Wednesday's coda to the initial aftermath of Saturday's shooting in Tucson offered up two distinct portraits of two very different leaders.

By Jena McGregor | January 13, 2011; 11:01 AM ET | Comments (237)

Arizona shootings: Must it take tragedy to wake up Washington?

But the fact that six people had to die before officials got serious about toning down the vitriol makes a mockery of this thing we call leadership. Real leaders would have stepped forward before this tragedy occurred, making it a priority to calm the discourse before things got out of hand. The ultimate irony, of course, is that Gabrielle Giffords was just that kind of leader.

By Jena McGregor | January 10, 2011; 10:05 AM ET | Comments (29)

The Navy videos: When time is no excuse

As the Navy decides the fate of Captain Owen Honors, perhaps the most ironically named officer in the U.S. military, one factor that will surely become a key part of the debate is the length of time that has passed since the raunchy videos were made.

By Jena McGregor | January 4, 2011; 09:56 AM ET | Comments (28)

Wall Street bonuses may drop, but not expectations

The issues surrounding Wall Street compensation will never be resolved by new rules or new laws about how big bonuses can be or in what way people can be paid. The people who work there are smart, and they will find a way around them. The only way any change will happen is for firm leaders--who currently have little incentive to change things themselves--to upend company culture through making tough, bold decisions that overturn years of ingrained expectations.

By Jena McGregor | December 20, 2010; 11:05 AM ET | Comments (6)

Bank brings dress code to a new level with 43-page guide

UBS is sending some of its retail banking staffers a 43-page code that advises them on everything from how much makeup women should wear (a light application of foundation, mascara and "discreet" lipstick "will enhance your personality") to how often men should get their hair cut (every four weeks).

By Jena McGregor | December 15, 2010; 12:17 PM ET | Comments (81)

Last-minute Congressional logjam: Few pros, plenty of cons

Whatever the outcome of the bill, and it's not likely to be pretty with that mishmash of agendas, the even more troubling downside is what it says about how our leaders view rules and deadlines in the face of political gain. Putting off tough decisions may help you look better in the short term, but it's hardly leadership. Making the details and intricacies of a trillion dollar budget a top priority that doesn't get pushed to the last-minute, however, is.

By Jena McGregor | December 8, 2010; 01:16 PM ET | Comments (23)

The tax cut deal: Procrastination, not leadership

Both Democrats and Republicans can say there wasn't time for such deliberations with a deadline looming, but both have also known this was coming for years. Then again, carefully planning for the future, as well as tackling the toughest problems first so your successors aren't left with them, takes leadership. And that's been in woefully short supply during the tax cut debate.

By Jena McGregor | December 7, 2010; 12:04 PM ET | Comments (40)

Extending the Bush tax cuts: Human nature?

What does this have to do with the news that the tax cuts are likely to get a temporary extension? Plenty. Those who favor ending the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy seem most worried about what this does to the deficit during the temporary extension, or about what this does to Obama's political fortunes--it was a campaign promise, after all, and many on the Left see such "negotiations" as preliminary caving to Republicans.

By Jena McGregor | December 3, 2010; 10:49 AM ET | Comments (100)

In 'Don't ask' debate, too much asking?

It is the job of leaders, certainly, to debate, probe and not lose their skepticism about critical matters. But the opponents to repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" now face an exhaustive amount of evidence that doing so poses little risk to the military. Not to mention it has support from the country's top two defense and military leaders, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen. All of which raises an important leadership question: Where's the line between debating and questioning findings on critical matters and ignoring exhaustive research and expertise?

By Jena McGregor | December 2, 2010; 12:50 PM ET | Comments (99)

The GOP's lame-duck blockade

Of course, this is the Senate we're talking about here, where politics has become so corroding and divisive that the chamber has nearly lost its capacity to govern. Perhaps the mere expectation from our leaders of multitasking is too much to ask. Yes, Congress needs to set priorities and focus on coming to a compromise on the tax cuts. But to formalize that into a pledge that opposes any legislation the other party proposes is neglecting the rest of their duties and adding even more political kindling to an already explosive situation.

By Jena McGregor | December 1, 2010; 10:26 AM ET | Comments (225)

The federal pay freeze: Will a brain drain follow?

Facing a ballooning deficit and a historic recession, Obama is doing the right thing by freezing the pay of federal workers for the next two years. But those who want sharply deeper cuts should make sure they know the unintended consequences that could surface. When the economy does turn around, and someday it will, more austere cuts to federal pay and benefits could prompt a brain drain of the best and brightest, no longer willing to pass up better pay to be physicians caring for wounded soldiers, scientists deciding which important research gets funded, or computer engineers monitoring cyber-terrorists.

By Jena McGregor | November 29, 2010; 02:32 PM ET | Comments (135)

The damage Joe Miller is doing by dragging out the fight

Miller's quixotic effort could soon reach the point of being more than detrimental to his own reputation--even tea party activists have said he risks damaging his own future political prospects--but could also be detrimental to the people he hoped to call his constituents.

By Jena McGregor | November 29, 2010; 07:39 AM ET | Comments (24)

Corporate profits hit highest record, so why aren't business leaders creating jobs?

This is not an economics blog, so I won't delve into the financial and policy details of whether it's government's or business's job to, well, create jobs. (It's both, of course.) But it is a leadership blog, and what's quickly becoming a fair question is whether CEOs are showing much of it at all when it comes to taking risks that lead to job creation.

By Jena McGregor | November 24, 2010; 07:52 AM ET | Comments (0)

TSA debacle: How media controversies keep tripping up Obama

Sensing what will anger people or ignite into a full-blown crisis--and what's a mere triviality that will be made worse by giving it attention--has tripped up Obama multiple times, as brouhahas over debates like the so-called "death panels" or the Guantanamo prisoners' trials have erupted before he could get in front of them.

By Jena McGregor | November 23, 2010; 12:21 AM ET | Comments (1)

TSA chief shifts his stance after media pat-down

It's hard to understand exactly what Pistole was thinking. The furor over the new pat-downs has been growing for days, and he needed to have a strategy for dealing sympathetically with the inevitable questions about what the TSA was doing in response to travelers' complaints. He tried, of course, but instead seemed intent on repeating talking points over and over again (such as how few people actually receive the new "enhanced" pat-downs). While he admitted the new policies were "invasive" and "uncomfortable," there was almost no explanation whatsoever for how the TSA was going to take into account fliers' fury.

By Jena McGregor | November 22, 2010; 09:24 AM ET | Comments (21)

The art of the announcement: Cuomo's charges against Obama's 'car czar'

The timing of Cuomo's announcement will certainly draw more awareness to the charges against Rattner. And indeed, the allegations against him are serious. Cuomo may, despite claims of coincidence, have decided it was in the public's best interest to be reminded of charges at a time when Rattner was already in the news, both for his work with GM and the SEC settlement.

By Jena McGregor | November 19, 2010; 10:46 AM ET | Comments (4)

Why Rangel's punishment won't really matter

In a way, Rangel's supporters are right--the real punishment for Rangel was losing a powerful position in the House, one that took years of seniority and status to earn. In that sense, his punishment was already meted out earlier this year. The process of an ethics trial would be much more meaningful if there were tiers of punishment below expulsion that explicitly brought with them more substantial penalties, such as demotions or fines.

By Jena McGregor | November 17, 2010; 12:41 PM ET | Comments (20)

On McNabb contract timing, Redskins management suffers a big loss, too

Surely, then, the Redskins management didn't plan on throwing millions at their star talent on the very day his worth to the Redskins team might be most seriously called into question. But they could have planned the announcement so that it didn't happen on the exact same day as a big game with a top team where such headline-grabbing comparisons would inevitably be made.

By Jena McGregor | November 16, 2010; 09:15 AM ET | Comments (20)

Google: The risks of giving everyone a raise

Giving a 10 percent salary increase to every single Google employee probably won't do enough to retain the company's best and brightest. And in fact, it could backfire. The company's hardest-working, most irreplaceable people could think all that extra effort is for nothing if their less talented colleagues see the same uptick in pay they do. And that could have them running for the door even faster.

By Jena McGregor | November 10, 2010; 12:48 PM ET | Comments (24)

Obama's 'leadership vs. management' problem

The president, in effect, is confronting an all too classic problem. Obama's "legislation vs. leadership" quandary is not all that different from the "management vs. leadership" dilemma many people in power face. Many leaders aren't very good managers, while many managers don't really know how to lead. To find both qualities in one person--the ability to execute and the capacity to inspire--is exceedingly rare.

By Jena McGregor | November 9, 2010; 10:46 AM ET | Comments (4)

Keith Olbermann's wrist slapping

Olbermann's punishment falls somewhere in the middle. It's understandable that MSNBC felt it had to do something more than get Olbermann to apologize. A rule is a rule, after all. But if it really wants to send the right message to other people who might be tempted to violate it, the discipline wasn't likely to scare many off.

By Jena McGregor | November 8, 2010; 11:47 AM ET | Comments (101)

Time for Pelosi to call it quits as Democratic figurehead?

For better or for worse, selecting leaders is a very symbolic act. Someone may be an effective fundraiser, or a brilliant manager, or a seasoned negotiator; but if they are the wrong face for the wrong time, they have a much harder time being any of those things. With President Obama talking compromise and greater back-and-forth (he hopes) with the newly empowered Republican party, having Nancy Pelosi as the figurehead of the Democratic Congress sends the message that things are unlikely to change.

By Jena McGregor | November 8, 2010; 10:06 AM ET | Comments (44)

Obama's "enemies" comment: Holding the president to a higher bar

Of course, actually "unifying" anyone--or anything--in Washington is extremely difficult, if not impossible, these days. And Obama may have tried to flex this mediation muscle against a Republican party that was obstinate in opposing him at every turn. But despite that frustration, Obama's calling his opponents enemies did nothing to help the situation. Even if it may seem a double standard at times...

By Jena McGregor | November 2, 2010; 09:19 AM ET | Comments (204)

Caprio: The final death knell of political civility?

The apex of this biennial bout of incivility was reached Monday--though with six more days until the election, it may yet be topped--when Rhode Island Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio said President Obama could take his endorsement and "shove it." Or actually, his lack of one. Caprio, the White House maintains, asked for an endorsement, but Obama chose not to give one to any of the candidates, out of respect to Caprio's independent opponent Lincoln Chafee, who has supported Obama in the past.

By Jena McGregor | October 27, 2010; 11:55 AM ET | Comments (18)

Wikileaks' Julian Assange: When the leader becomes the story

By walking out on the CNN interview with Ms. Shubert, he promises to bring even greater attention to himself rather than the Iraq war documents to which his organization is trying to bring so much attention. Even if questions about his personal life weren't germane to the interview (and given his accusations against the U.S. government, they are), Ms. Shubert's questions about whether or not he is eclipsing the Wikileaks revelations were fair. A leader's job is to promote and defend the organization's work, yes. But that is best done behind the scenes rather than by making one themselves.

By Jena McGregor | October 25, 2010; 08:03 AM ET | Comments (67)

The Tribune Co.'s leadership fiasco

A company ridden with as much debt as Tribune Co., which became the largest media company in history to file for bankruptcy, needs a decisive leader to get it out of its current morass. Four leaders, even if it's just temporary, could hurt the company more than they help.

By Jena McGregor | October 21, 2010; 12:00 PM ET | Comments (3)

Why BP's new bonus plan won't work

n an email, Dudley told employees that fourth-quarter bonuses would be based solely on the company's safety record, including "reducing operational risks" and "excellent safety and compliance standards." While existing bonus performance metrics would be honored for the first nine months of the year, the Wall Street Journal reports, safety will be the only measure for the fourth quarter. The problem? It won't work.

By Jena McGregor | October 20, 2010; 11:37 AM ET | Comments (0)

The hubris of Steve Jobs

I'm all for CEOs being a little more candid when it comes to discussing their competition. Some go out of their way to avoid even saying their rivals' names on the record (which can sound ridiculous), much less openly criticizing them. But there is such a thing as too much hubris--even for a company with results as stellar as Apple's--and a healthy respect for competitors should be something in every leader's lexicon. Most at least pretend they have it.

By Jena McGregor | October 19, 2010; 12:15 PM ET | Comments (23)

Kaya Henderson: The new and improved Rhee?

If ever there was an example that shows why management style should get more weight, it's Michelle Rhee. Consider the transfer of power from Rhee to Kaya Henderson, who will be interim schools chancellor but is also considered a potential permanent replacement. Not only did Henderson, like Rhee, get her start with Teach for America and work with Rhee for her New Teacher Project organization, she was an implementer of Rhee's strategies for reform in D.C. She calls Rhee her "friend, partner, mentor."

By Jena McGregor | October 15, 2010; 09:47 AM ET | Comments (8)

Where Rhee went wrong

Now that the dust has settled on the news of her departure, Rhee's tenure has plenty to teach leaders about managing change. While the views on Rhee's record are decidedly mixed, even supporters are likely to agree she violated one of the fundamental rules of change management: Rhee was never really able to enlist support from the people--namely teachers and parents--who would ultimately implement the changes she hoped to instill.

By Jena McGregor | October 13, 2010; 02:19 PM ET | Comments (84)

Wall Street's record-breaking paystubs: Pay for performance? Really?

Someday, hopefully, the financial industry will recognize that while a meritocracy matters, too much focus on rewarding supposed talent will keep creating as many risks as it does rewards.

By Jena McGregor | October 12, 2010; 10:42 AM ET | Comments (14)

Leaders need to 'pass' on the sports cliches

When the sports analogy gets overplayed, it ceases to be useful. Not because people don't understand it, but because it's more likely to have your people rolling their eyes than feeling motivated to work better or smarter. The manager who talks about fumbling the ball when something goes wrong, or using the hurry-up offense on a competitor, or being in the red zone when quarterly numbers are close to being met sounds like a caricature, not a leader.

By Jena McGregor | October 8, 2010; 06:44 AM ET | Comments (10)

The BP oil spill papers: A case study in management failure

A weakened presidency, heightened national political tensions and the magnitude of the spill all contributed to decision-making meddling from higher-ups. But any organization in crisis often faces the same risk: top executives want to look like they're taking swift action, when really the best course might be simply letting go. The temptation for leaders to wade in--no pun intended--and micro-manage during a crisis blurs decision-making structures, confuses front-line workers and slows down action as everyone waits to see what the higher-ups want now that the traditional process has been shattered.

By Jena McGregor | October 7, 2010; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (6)

Redskins: A lesson in low expectations

usiness teams, too, have a way of overlooking the possibility of their competitions' success. There's a whole genre of "disruptive innovators," a term coined by Harvard professor Clayton Christenson's work, in which companies get blindsided by unexpected competitors or new strategies of their opponents.

By Jena McGregor | September 27, 2010; 09:04 AM ET | Comments (1)

Poor, poor Zuckerberg

I don't believe in the idea that all publicity is good publicity. And maybe I'll change my mind after I view the film and see just how scathing the portrait of Zuckerberg is. But I think people are more forgiving of leaders than we think, and very little can get in the way of a cultural phenomenon like Facebook.

By Jena McGregor | September 23, 2010; 12:22 PM ET | Comments (30)

Keep it simple, Obama

Obama's message problem is about more than just deciding when he does and doesn't need to pick up the mallet. The themes he crafts for his own speeches and campaign stops need to be simplified and winnowed down. I can't count the number of leaders and leadership experts I've spoken to over the years who say three is the magic number of separate goals or ideas people can easily focus on at the same time. Then, repeat them. Over and over and over again. And then again.

By Jena McGregor | September 17, 2010; 11:02 AM ET | Comments (41)

Fenty: The danger of going with your gut

The lessons for leaders are too many to count: Fenty is a textbook case for the risks not only of using brash tactics, but having an insular staff, lacking a sense of urgency and thumbing your nose at...

By Jena McGregor | September 15, 2010; 10:04 AM ET | Comments (11)

Speeding up Wall Street bonuses sends old message: Greed is good

Using the rationale that hurrying up bonuses is a not-to-be-missed opportunity, good leadership would also include changing established practice just to reap financial gain. Not to mention flouting authority and skirting the rules to meet your needs.

By Jena McGregor | August 30, 2010; 09:43 AM ET | Comments (16)

Leadership at the "Ground Zero mosque": A Failure?

If the planned center had a better public relations strategy, better outreach to its Muslim community, and a clearer vision for itself, would we have the same controversy we have today? In other words, would better leadership have made a difference?

By Jena McGregor | August 23, 2010; 06:35 AM ET | Comments (58)

Palin: A Profound Lack of Sensitivity

After resigning from the governorship of Alaska, Sarah Palin may not be an elected leader. But because of her thousands of followers, and her repeated, and often successful, attempts to impact the national conversation, she is still very much a leader. I believe that role demands its actors to condemn offensive speech and promote tolerance and understanding. In defending Laura Schlessinger, Sarah Palin is anything but.

By Jena McGregor | August 19, 2010; 12:39 PM ET | Comments (58)

Weekend Reads: The Hurd Mentality

While that may sound like the script for a bad made-for-TV movie, it was the biggest leadership news of the week, in case you were so distracted by the Steve Slater evacuation chute stunt that you missed it.

By Jena McGregor | August 13, 2010; 12:05 PM ET | Comments (0)

The moral hypocrisy epidemic

Whether it's family values Republicans who have secretive affairs, or do-gooding Democrats who get involved with questionable characters, or CEOs who talk admirably about how much they value their company's people just before taking the ax to 20% of their jobs, nothing frustrates us more than leaders who say one thing, especially if it involves a moral high ground, and then go off and do another. Good leaders run their public and private selves the same way, and know that yes, it does matter how you live.

By Jena McGregor | August 12, 2010; 11:59 AM ET | Comments (0)

What Mark Hurd and Charlie Rangel Have in Common

One left his post without a public fight, albeit with more than $35 million in his pockets. The other is battling the charges, setting up a potentially historic public trial. But both leaders would like their reputations back, thank you very much.

By Jena McGregor | August 11, 2010; 11:43 AM ET | Comments (4)

Mark Hurd's departure leaves successor in doubt

Hurd was only 53, had only been in the role since 2005, and was doing such a remarkable job that it's almost understandable why a successor didn't immediately appear in the wings.

By Jena McGregor | August 9, 2010; 10:28 AM ET | Comments (0)

HP CEO Mark Hurd allowed to resign: No severance?

Hurd may have been just another CEO (and there are far too many) who let ethics slip in the face of power. But if HP's board wants to boost integrity in the C-suite at HP, and ensure pride and strong morale among its employees, it has a big role to play, too. It should start with the next chief's pay package.

By Jena McGregor | August 8, 2010; 10:26 PM ET | Comments (2)

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company