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For the Next Katrina

There are a few blog entries today Surrounding FEMA director Michael Brown here, here, and here Surrounding ex-FEMA director Michael Brown's interview in the NY Times.

Not much to add to what has already said. Brown had to go. Reading the interview, there was no other option.

Yet since I spent the majority of the 80s in Military Leadership, graduating two Army Leadership academies in the top percentile, i feel a little compelled to contribute.

I've got nothing to comment on Mr. Brown's 'resignation' - consider it the "Peter Principle" and leave it at that.

My commentary is more on the difference between "management" and "leadership", because if we are going to be ready for the next catastophie, we had better be clear on what characteristics will be more important.

While some would say I'm spitting hairs, there is a vast difference between Leadership (Leaders) and Management (Managers)

In short, Leaders lead people and managers manage tasks. There is a difference. Both should be qualities in the person who heads an agency such as FEMA, but they ought to be qualities throughout the agency as well. You don't have to be in charge to be a "leader", indeed the real heros we have seen thus far are true leaders, while most of the criticism has been directed at the managers. Michael Brown was a manager, albeit not a very good one.

Rick Moran is correct in saying the ulimate problem in the Katrina response is that "it appears that leaders at all levels – local, state, and federal – not only became captive to events surrounding the aftermath of the hurricane, but also failed to work together to get on top of the situation, wasting precious hours dithering about a “unified command structure” while the situation in the city spiraled out of control."

Amen. But this involves more than just the people involved, the system itself failed.

You can't fight a Grizzly bear with toothpick - a Natural Disaster (and that's what it was), cannot be fought with system not created to address it.

I've worked with FEMA on an off since Andrew and specifically during Andrew. FEMA was not, and is not designed from the ground up to address disasters on the scale of Katrina - period. The proof is that FEMA performed 'nearly' flawlessly during five consecutive hurricanes in Florida in the last year.

Sure there were problems - there are always problems. Yet when a storm such as Katrina with a significant variable in the effect (the levees broke), snapped the back of the system.

When you are preparing for an eventuality such as a diaster, you plan for the variables - the things in the "what if" column. This is called "thinking in multiples". Yet even when you have crossed every "T", things change, reroute, become "disorganized".

There is where leadership comes in. Managers are a dime a dozen. They are paid to manage. They manage everything from a warehouse to a city. They manage, but they don't necessarily lead. They are good when things go according to plan, not so good when they begin to hit road blocks.

However, leaders can manage, but they don't have to be managers to lead. Leaders don't need a "manual" or a "procedure" to act. Leaders improvise when there are no options. They declare "nuts" when told to surrender. They have no option but to succeed at all cost, failure is not an option to them.

What we witnessed with Mayor Nagin, Governor Blanco, and even Mr. Brown was the opposite of Leadership - but then it wasn't a failure of leadership because these three aren't leaders - they are managers. Managers generally complain and find fault when things become "unmanagable" it's in their nature.

Leader's on the other hand don't blame, they don't find fault - unless they are prepared to set it right and then they correct the situation and move on.

President Bush, for all the heat he has taken in this affair, exhibited leadership. You can fault his "slowness" to respond - that's a management fault (Blame it on that damn Harvard training). But when push came to shove, he declared the situation 'unacceptable", took responsibility and began to set things aright. Like him or hate him, he didn't blame or threaten or make excuses - that's a Leader.

For the next Katrina, I hope we have a hell of lot more leaders than managers.

Also AJ Strata, Junkyard Blog.




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