The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

3s and 2s -- Redux

Those who read this blog regularly are familiar with two phrases that I use now and then: "3s hire 2s" and "Team of 2s." Both are derived from an old management axiom that deserves repeating, based on the events of the past few weeks.

It's possible to rate a manager's or politician's executive and leadership abilities on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being abysmal and 10 being absolutely world class. A good executive might be rated as an 8 or 9 and a bumbling, inexperienced, ineffective executive might get a rating of, say, 2 or 3 (assuming some small redeeming traits that mitigate against a 1 rating).

The management axiom is:  "9s hire 10s, and 3s hire 2s." That is, executives who are highly competent are not afraid to hire people even more competent than they are, and more important, have the ability to choose those people from many candidates. Executives who are incompetent are also insecure and rarely would hire a person that is more competent than they are. In addition, because they do not have the traits of a good executive or leader, they simply don't know what to look for. Like Murphy's law, the axiom "9s hire 10s, and 3s hire 2s" is encountered repeatedly as each of us moves through life.

At best, six years of hard experience have indicated that as an executive and a leader, Barack Obama is a 3. Further, his direct reports—people like Susan Rice (of Benghazi fame) and John Kerry (of no fame whatsoever) to name just two—populate a Team of 2s.

Nothing exemplifies this better that the recent appointment of "Ebola Tzar," Ron Klain. Peggy Noonan comments:
On the appointment of Ron Klain as the president’s so-called Ebola Czar, much is made of the fact that he lacks a medical or scientific background. I’m not sure that’s important.

More significant is that he is a longtime, hard-line Democratic Party operative who is known more for spin and debate prep than high-level management. That suggests the White House sees the Ebola crisis as foremost a political messaging problem. The president certainly seems unafraid of appearing to see the problem as a political messaging one. His primary focus when choosing Klain looks self-indulgent: “Who do I trust and like to work with?” as opposed to “What does the public require and the situation demand?”

Ebola is going to prove spin-resistant: In fact, the more you spin down the deeper you’re going to get in the hole.

A problem with the Klain appointment is that he does not have natural command presence and public authority. The administration blew its initial handling of the crisis. What is needed is a Gen. Schwarzkopf sort of figure who could stand there at the morning briefing and tell you what’s happening and you know he’s telling it to you true. A straight-shooting retired general or admiral, or a civilian—an independent CEO with a public reputation, someone known for getting things done, someone with his own lines of communication to the media and political class. A Mike Bloomberg—someone who doesn’t need you, who can walk away from the job if he doesn’t get the tools and is feared inside because he can walk.

Someone who is not only bigger than Ron Klain but bigger than Barack Obama.
But that would violate the 3s and 2s axiom. So it won't happen. Not with this president in any event.

Supporters of the president suggest that those of us who have criticized the administration's handling of the current situation are "hysterical" or "panicked."

Not really. But I suspect that every one of us is really, really concerned that a weak 3 is making bad decisions, not the least of which is hiring 2s to (no pun intended) stop the bleeding.

UPDATE (10/21/14):

The Wall Street Journal reports:
Up to three Ebola-infected people could embark on overseas flights every month from the three most-affected African countries, according to a new study that projected travel patterns based on infection rates and recent flight schedules.

The findings, published Monday in the journal Lancet, suggest that Ebola cases could be spread overseas by unwitting travelers from the worst-hit countries—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The World Health Organization has estimated that, by early December, there could be as many as 10,000 new cases a week in west Africa.
So. Those of us who urge a travel ban do so out of panic? Really?

Let's see. With the R-Zero at about 1.71 to 2.0, that means that those 3 people might lead to about 6 cases in Europe, or Asia or the United States. And if detected late, the new cases might lead to 12, then 24, then 48. Obviously, there's no way of knowing whether that would happen, but playing fast and lose with controls on the movement of travelers from West Africa is irresponsible and stupid.