Recently, I have been seeing a lot of news stories about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. This issue is definitely older, but how the White House handled this issue can teach us few things about leadership. In this blog, I am going to view this incident through the leadership glasses, and provide you with few tips on “what not to do”.
Don’t act on partial information: Through different news conferences, e-mails, and the number of congress hearings, it had become clear that the White House spoke too soon about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. If White House was trying to hide this issue, then its a different story; but let’s assume that the conspiracy about White House lying to the public is wrong. Even then, it is clear that White House had changed its talking points multiple times. If they didn’t have the complete information at that time, then they shouldn’t have spoke anything about that issue at all. Sometimes, its ok to give no answer, if you don’t have the correct information. Though there will be an eagerness to get those answers quickly, by not giving those answers on partial information, you (as a leader) will be avoiding lot of confusion in the future (like Obama administration is dealing with currently).
Take the first hand feedback: I am not a proponent of the theory that Hillary Clinton lied to the american public. But it doesn’t require a rocket scientist to figure out that the communication protocols defined for the disastrous situation like this were poorly implemented. Transparency was definitely missing in the equation. Talking points about the event were made by people, who didn’t have any idea on what was going on. Even if those points were made by administrative people, they should have been reviewed by the people on the ground. Let’s take this for an example……as a leader you implement a completely new process in your organization, and never care to see how it is going. Will that be acceptable? If so, how will you measure your success? Since there was no feedback loop attached to this action, of course the results from this new initiative won’t mean anything to you, since you can’t compare it with any baseline. And hence, there won’t be any mechanism through which you can find out the success/failure of this new process.
Find the root cause first: When Hillary Clinton said “What difference does it make?”, I was stunned by her response. Even if I neglect the fact that no one can do anything about the people who have died in that attack, how they died makes a huge difference in this case. Let’s look at this from a different perspective. Remember the famous example of “iPhone 4 antenna problem”? Initially it was thought to be the network issue with ATT, and then they realized that the issue was due to the new metal cover of iPhone 4. And hence, they produced a workaround on the iPhone side, instead of trying to strengthen the ATT network worldwide or changing the carrier through which iPhone was provided exclusively. What would have happened, if they didn’t identify the real issue, and kept blaming on the ATT network? In that case, the issue wouldn’t have resolved, and future customers would have kept seeing the same issue. Similarly, if we don’t find out the root cause of this Benghazi issue, we can’t secure our US consulate in other countries in the future.
Well……there are various other leadership “not to do” lessons that you can learn from this incident, but I would like to stop here for this particular blog. If you think that you have few other examples/points that you would like to share here, then feel free to drop your comments.
Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi