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Lead, Manage or Get Out of The Way

True leaders might not be the best managers. Those who manage well can lack the power to inspire. Though they run against the grain of the new emphasis on workplace leadership, these are among the findings of a recent study of the Defense Department. It's a good place to investigate the contrasts between leadership and management, because the military services place a unique and deep emphasis on developing leaders, while sprawling Defense agencies desperately need good managers to keep them organized and focused on results.

Army Maj. Paul Oh and Assistant Professor David Lewis of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in New Jersey authored "Management and Leadership Performance in the Defense Department: Evidence From Surveys of Federal Employees." They parsed the Office of Personnel Management federal human capital surveys from 2002 and 2004.

Among their findings:

  • Employees in the military services report more respect for their senior leaders and more motivation than do employees in nonservice Defense organizations.
  • Executives with longer tenure are viewed as better at reviewing organizational progress, providing workers knowledge and skills, and promoting internal communication.
  • Among the services, the Air Force ranked highest for leadership, management and work climate.
  • Higher levels of education and private sector management experience correlated with high performance.
  • The report notes that though the military services frequently rotate leaders to develop them, this does not adversely affect leadership. But among nonservice organizations, frequent turnover reduces managers' long-term perspective. Throughout the department, executives with higher levels of education and private sector management experience scored better on all survey questions. Those atop service organizations might have a built-in advantage over those in nonservice organizations, researchers found. "Executive leaders in the services can appeal to esprit de corps, sense of duty, mission and service, traditions and cultures," they note.

    Clearance Clog Is Clearing

    Federal agencies process 1.9 million clearances annually on average. The Office of Personnel Management handles the majority of investigations. By 2004, a clearance clog had backed up companies and agencies across government. Average background investigations were taking a year for Top Secret and Confidential clearances and five to six months for Secret and Confidential clearances. Now, it appears the tide has turned. The 2004 intelligence reform law required that 80 percent of all clearance applications be acted upon within 120 days-investigations completed within 90 days and adjudication of clearance decisions within 30 days. Turnaround times are approaching those limits.

    Thinking Inside The Box

    The Army can be as tough as the strictest high school English teacher. In December, its Communications-Electronics Life Cycle Management Command rejected a contractor's bid be-cause every page of its offer exceeded the specified margin limits.

    To the contractor, Mathews Associates Inc. of Sanford, Fla., typing outside the lines seemed like unreasonable grounds for loss of a deal potentially worth $120 million. But the Army argued that it was just asking companies to follow a few simple rules.

    The solicitation for loudspeakers and battery boxes included specific instructions on how bids should be structured. Proposals were to be submitted electronically, limited to 25 pages and have margins of 1 inch on all four sides. The Mathews proposal met the first two criteria, but flunked the third, in part by running text nearly to the bottom of every page.

    Unwilling to accept its failing grade, Mathews followed the path of so many disgruntled students: protest. Its attorneys told the Government Accountability Office, which reviews bid protests, that the Army could have reformatted the proposal with just a few mouse clicks.

    But, as with most desperate pleas for a second opinion on grammatically challenged term papers, Mathews' complaint received little sympathy. GAO rejected the protest on March 5.

    - Robert Brodsky
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