Friday, January 16, 2009

Woodward's management guide

In this piece in the Washingtonpost, Bob Woodward has outlined some lessons from the Bush years for Barack Obama. It makes a fascinating read.

We may quibble about whether Bush's failures are a nail in the coffin for conservatism, but there can be little doubt about the utter mismanagement of the Bush adminsitration. In his distillation of some key Bush failures, Woodward has identified some gems that are relevant not just for presidents, but all general managers. The list below is a distilled version paraphrased for managers instead of for the President:
  • Managers set the tone. Don't be passive or tolerate virulent divisions among subordinates and team members.
  • Insist that subordinates speak out loud in front of the others, even - or especially - when there are vehement disagreements.
  • Master the fundamental ideas and concepts behind policies. Don't farm out the understanding of the ramifications and trade-offs.
  • Draw people out to ensure that bad news surfaces in a timely manner.
  • Foster a culture of skepticism and doubt. Doubt is not the enemy of good policy; it can help leaders evaluate alternatives, handle big decisions and later make course corrections if necessary.
  • Be rigorous about reconciling differences in contradictory data.
  • Be willing to tell the hard truth to stakeholders, even if that means delivering very bad news.
  • Righteous motives are not enough for effective policy.
  • Insist on strategic thinking - i.e. define where the organization should be in one, two or four years (depending on the level) and develop a detailed tactical plans to get there. It's easy to become consumed with putting out brush fires, but in the long run managers will be judged by the success of their long-range plans, not their daily crisis management.
  • Embrace transparency.

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