Walter Pincus of the Washington Post brought up a darn good question earlier this week: Which is more important, the person(ality) at the top of your organization or the way it’s structured?
In many ways, this brings to mind the old debate about a coach’s job. Is it to motivate players, inspire them, help each one individually perform at his (or her) best and ensure they’re working well together? Or is it to implement the system, the game plan, the Xs and Os that the team can learn and that will give it a competitive edge even after he’s gone?
Pincus’s story is actually about the Intelligence Community. With Robert Gates stepping down as SecDef, he wonders, who will keep the seventeen disparate agencies and organizations that make up the IC working together?
Gates, a former CIA director and for the past four years defense secretary, uniquely understood the need to balance national and military intelligence interests. … While he has been secretary, traditional Washington-based rivalries between officials at CIA and the Pentagon were damped down.
At least one former Director of National Intelligence, Robert Blair, believes the problem can be solved with structural changes on the part of Congress. He thinks a reorganization will allow the community to perform better regardless of who happens to be leading it at any given time (most notably, he wants to separate the CIA into two pieces).
“Administrations and personalities come and go,” Blair said, “but it seems to me it’s the responsibility of the legislation to establish that structure.”
For Pincus, the team’s success depends on its coach. The key to the IC’s relatively seamless operations has been Gates, who he calls “the linchpin that has helped keep the wheels from coming off what has occasionally been an unstable vehicle.” For DNI Blair, on the other hand, it’s the game plan that makes the difference, and if we can structure the IC correctly, it won’t matter who’s calling the shots.
Which is more important for organizational success, the guy in charge or the system he puts in place?
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