A Change Agent Failure

What happens when a manager does it all his way.

Bill Proenza was the National Hurricane Center director who never dealt with a hurricane-at least one created by Mother Nature. His half-year tenure, from January to July 2007, was instead dominated by a storm of his own making. Proenza managed in that short time to publicly embarrass his bosses, alienate his staff and get himself fired. A member of the Senior Executive Service who has since been reinstated in his previous position as head of a National Weather Service regional office, Proenza publicly pushed for a bigger budget for some hurricane center programs. He made his case in the media despite opposition from some of his superiors and subordinates.

For the sake of argument, suppose Proenza's efforts were in the best interest of the hurricane center. Assume he was right to argue for more dollars for hurricane research and for a controversial satellite. Being right wasn't enough. He failed not only to keep his job; he also failed to get the changes he advocated.

It wasn't just Proenza's maverick budget advocacy that doomed him. Much of the hurricane staff also complained to his superiors that he was a poor leader. Their complaints prompted Proenza's bosses to send a management assessment team-led by the deputy director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology-to the center.

"The team concluded that the [hurricane center's] ability to achieve its mission was seriously threatened because of the environment which had been created by the director's statements and actions," the NIST report to Proenza's bosses stated. "The director's actions intimidated some staff and alienated others. Teamwork, essential to the center's hurricane forecasting capabilities, was damaged severely. Some staff were concerned about retaliation for voicing their views."

Many executives in both government and the private sector take on new assignments full of plans for change. Good leaders take their time getting to know their new staff, their ideas for change and the overarching challenges their department faces. If executives have visions for the future, they develop support for them both up and down the chain of command. They incorporate the ideas of subordinates and superiors into their plans.

Proenza acted without taking such inclusionary steps. In testimony to Congress on his way out the door, Proenza said he took office and immediately identified the problems that he exposed in the media. A letter from his boss released at that time showed that Proenza had a habit of acting on his own, without regard for his superior's directions or official policy. On Capitol Hill, he presented himself as a whistleblower who was the target of politics at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent agency of the hurricane center. Politics, however, is part of the job for any leader, even when dealing with bosses and employees. Politics is the art of persuasion and influence. A leader who is interested in seeing his vision actually become reality must learn that art. Proenza didn't, and he watched his ideas wash away, along with his job at the hurricane center.

Brian Friel covered management and human resources at Government Executive for six years and is now a National Journal staff correspondent.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.