Category Archives: Staff Leadership

Amazing Things Will Happen.

Closing out his run on the Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien left behind some heartfelt advice to his fans.  “Please don’t be cynical,” he said.  “I hate cycnicism—it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.  Nobody in life get’s exactly what they thought they were going to get.  But if you work really hard and you’re kind amazing things will happen.  I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”

Don’t be cynical.  Expect the unexpected. Work really hard.  Be kind.  Amazing things will happen.  Lessons for leadership in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

The Failure of Flyover Leadership

af1newyorkcityThe day after the head of the White House Military Office stepped down, President Obama could joke about the fiasco.  Sasha and Malia are grounded said the President speaking at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner this past Saturday in Washington, DC.  “You can’t just take Air Force One on a joyride to Manhattan.  I don’t care whose kids you are…we’ve been setting some ground rules here.”   

Ground rules or not, the photo of Air Force One flying over the Statue of Liberty in Manhattan—serves as a reminder of the dangers of flyover leadership.  The Air Force photo-op frightened New York and New Jersey residents reminding many of the nightmare of September 11th.  The flyover created a public relations firestorm for the White House.  The President and his Press Secretary were queried as was the Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, each of whom said they were unaware of the decision.  While claims about proper procedures being followed and notifications to the proper agencies including the FAA, Secret Service, FBI, US Park Police and New York City Police being made, they forgot to tell the people who mattered most—the citizens of greater New York City.  So after spending $357,000 for the photos and following an internal review of the decision process by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, the man in charge of the White House Military Office former Secretary of the US Army Louis Caldera, who had been quick to accept responsibility for the decision, just as quickly tendered his resignation.

There are vivid lessons here for leaders.  The cynics say its just politics as usual when a staffer is dismissed over a poor decision.  Yet, if you are determined to be a leader, whether it’s the White House or your house, leadership requires a strong dose of the political. Leadership most assuredly understands that foresight is far better than hindsight; (b) vetting your thinking and decisions beyond your own “inner circle” pays big dividends; (c) being certain information is flowing up, as well as down in the chain of command is Job 1; (d) making sure those who most need to know are absolutely, positively in the loop—no excuses; (e) assume nothing—ask the tough questions to make sure you fully understand what actions or steps are being proposed, double-check by personal contact if necessary and perhaps finally, expect to be held fully accountable for the quality (or lack thereof) in your actions and decision-making.  I’m certain there are even more leadership lessons to be found here and I invite you to share them so we can all learn from the lessons of flyover leadership.

Do You Know Where Your Critical Cyber Assets Are?

darkpurplecloudsThere’s a cautionary tale for association leaders and managers in the Wall Street Journal describing how “spies” have successfully penetrated the US electrical grid and other infrastructure systems in recent years.  Interestingly, many of the penetrations were not uncovered by the companies in charge of the infrastructure, but rather by the U.S. intelligence community.  WSJ writer Siobhan Gorman reports that U.S. National Director of Intelligence Dennis Blair has told Congress “over the past several years we have seen cyber attacks against critical  infrastructures abroad and many of our own infrastructures are as vulnerable as their foreign counterparts.”

Which led me to wondering about how many organizations in the non-profit community have taken the time to identify their own “critical cyber assets”?  And how many have created management structures and protocols to properly protect and test them from time to time?  No, I’m not talking about making sure you have a back-up of your computer database and critical files stored off site (it is stored off-site and tested for functionality time-to-time right?) although that’s important to be sure.  No, I was really pondering the notion of what might comprise the  “critical cyber assets” of your organization?   Perhaps databases, with suspects, prospects, customers and members. Check.  The financial data system, including system backups, accounts receivable, tax filings, and payroll records. Check.  Are the customer database and financial systems segregated by a firewall or other barrier?  If someone hacked your member database could they walk through your financial system too?  How about the inventory of periodicals, publications and articles that comprise the intellectual property of the organization? Check.  Convention, conference and seminar registration data, speaker resources, submissions, contracts, venue agreements, and planning documents?  Check.  Where’s the back-up for governance records of the organization such as Board and committee minutes, bylaws, articles of incorporation, IRS determination letters and related correspondence? Got it. Good. Check.  What’s your plan to assure your organization’s new social media assets such as FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn or Plaxopages could be resurrected were they to be hacked or lost to some sort of cyber-glitch?

I’m sure you and your team can come up with a more comprehensive list than what’s here and that’s exactly my point.  If you haven’t already done so, now is a great time to get started and if you’ve already walked this path, now could be a great time to re-check your steps.  Have you overlooked anything?  Are your firewalls and external and internal intrusion detection systems up to date and secure?  Sure there may be bigger and juicier targets for hackers than your organization, but  the threat can arise from within, too.  The Wall Street Journal story describes an incident in 2000 when a disgruntled employee in Australia rigged a computerized water control system to let loose a stream of 200,000 gallons of sewage flooding parks, rivers and a local hotel.  So, about those critical cyber assets?