Tag: Leadership

McClellan, and Other Leaders Who Got It Wrong


Officers of the 69th Infantry New York, at Fort Corcoran, VA, with Col. Michael Corcoran. (Mathew Brady/NARA)

American history is replete with examples of military leaders making foolish and erroneous declarations.

Perhaps none did so more frequently and with such significant consequences than George B. McClellan, arguably the worst commander in U.S. military history, a man who never missed an opportunity to be wrong with a spectacular inability to recognize it.

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The individuals who rise to national prominence here in the U.S. puzzle me with their apparent mediocrity–the lackluster communication skills (or slick speaking ability devoid of content), the lack of clear principles, the absence of fresh ideas. I find it frustrating that we can’t elect strong, principled leaders in a country of more than 300 […]

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Peggy Noonan, Drudge and Others


There’s nothing like getting up on a promising new morning, grabbing a cup of your favorite coffee, and browsing the news only to get depressed within minutes. The Drudge Report is now like forgetting to take out that rotten smelling trash last night. I thought well, the latest story from a respected journalist like Peggy Noonan might freshen the air. No, it belongs in the garbage can with the black banana peels. Trump can’t handle a crisis, his “photo op” at the church was stupid, Joe Biden is way ahead, the country is about to lockdown again, thugs are winning…. I’m ready to go back to bed.

Let’s begin with “Trump can’t handle a crisis” – which crisis would that be Peggy? Was it the three-plus years since Trump was sworn in, where a covert, attempted takedown of his election under the Obama-Biden administration that beat the country’s spirit to a pulp, or how about impeachment over a call to the new Ukrainian president? Was it trying to restore, and succeeding, in resurrecting a failing manufacturing sector, creating new employment opportunities for all, regardless of skin color or gender – was that a crisis?

How about the extraordinary feats during a pandemic of pulling together a medical team of experts to direct the unfolding of this new disease, pulling together major industries to create and manufacture massive supply needs, rushing ships converted into hospitals, supporting governors, closing borders when Biden and Pelosi were crying foul – is that the crisis you meant? Did you regularly check both the CDC and the World Health Organization, as I did, both very late in identifying COVID-19 an actual pandemic, even as Italy was quarantining large segments of the population??

My Sheriff Makes Me Proud


We live in Polk County, Florida. No one messes with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. He’s been following the rioting that’s occurring across the country, and he’s taken a stand in Polk County:

Judd said there were rumblings on social media that rioters planned to bring violence into the neighborhoods of Polk County.

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  This morning I have been reading various social media trying to take in everything that is happening across the country. It is hard to fathom the amount of violence that has happened in the last several days Several have noted that the president has not made a major speech on this issue and have […]

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How One School Pivoted After Campus Closure


I’ve been working long-distance for a small K-12 California school since 2006, and I’ve always appreciated the leadership–but wow, have the principal and faculty outdone themselves since school campuses were closed weeks ago, due to the virus. I could sense in the days preceding the closure that he felt some stress, and I was told that developments with the virus were weighing on him. It concerned me–none of us could predict what was coming and what it might mean for our school.

Then the principal’s letters to parents and staff started coming in: campus is closed until thus and such a date–no, it’s actually closed longer. Here’s the plan–no, here’s the new plan. There was a first phase of online learning with teacher training to buy time, and then everyone settled into a second phase with clear, uniform procedures. All of this was accomplished via positive e-mails and a weekly parent letter; sandwiched between a paragraph of encouragement and links to resources, each parent communication carefully explained any new developments so there were no misunderstandings. Regular social media photos feature young students beaming from their computers at home, seniors posing with certificates, teachers handing out weekly packets to families in cars. Anyone would think it was the best thing that ever happened to the school, and in spite of the uncertainties, extra pressures all around, and financial stress (I actually don’t know how much longer they can keep me on), there have been some upsides to it.

Never Say Never


I think everyone must have their own “never say never” story, and this is mine. 

I have been involved with my church’s 20s/30s singles group for quite a few years now, and something we’ve done for a long time is discipleship groups (or d-groups). These are small gender-specific groups that meet during the week, usually at someone’s house, for deeper fellowship and Bible study. I really enjoy d-groups and signed up for one right away. But after I had been a member of a d-group a couple of times, our leader, Kelly, started asking me to think about leading or co-leading one. 

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           Leading men and women is interesting and challenging and I can’t wait to tell you about my experience.  First let me get to some ground rules.  I am a Christians and all the leadership roles I have been in or religious in character.  Second while some things are generally true about men and women […]

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Leading Up When the Truth Is Inconvenient


Sexiest anti-aircraft vehicles/weapons. - Page 2 - Project Reality ForumsThis is a true story, from the height of the Cold War, about the failure of a system within a critical system and the very human responses to a truth-teller. Why tell the tale now? Because a friend’s work situation, in a major corporation, recalled the memory. So, take this tale as a parable for all times, and consider how the players in context, the conflict, and the conclusion relate to your work, your community, or state and national policy areas.


It was the late 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, in West Germany. This was to be ground zero for World War III, if it should come. The plains and valleys would be carpeted by armies of Soviet tanks, while the sky would be filled with aerial armadas operating under Soviet doctrine as the deep extension of artillery fires. To give our tanks, infantry, and artillery enough freedom to execute our maneuver-centered doctrine, “Air Land Battle,” air defense artillery (ADA) had to effectively deal with both planes and helicopter gunships.

Working in the Wake: How Leaders Lose Their Focus


Dr. T.P. Hall was a part time teacher in my Executive MBA program. Retired from the Georgia State School of Business, T.P. (as he asked us to call him) was every inch the seasoned old man who clearly loved to share his accumulated wisdom. One afternoon, he abandoned his Power Point presentation and spoke to us directly.

And I will always remember his words of advice:

From Commodity to Transformation: How Selling Coffee Points the Way to the Future of Healthcare Delivery and Why it is So Hard to Get Right


In his 2006 book The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary, Joseph A. Michelli outlines how Starbucks takes a service (preparing coffee) and turns into an experience, a transformation that has not been without struggles and has proven difficult to maintain over time.

In the book, Michelli outlines the hierarchy of sales, showing that the highest margins are from those sales based on experience, using coffee as an example:

Commodity: Coffee beans.

Engaged Employees Come from Engaged Managers: Why the Job Description is Not Enough


In his 2015 article “Obsolete Annual Reviews: Gallup’s Advice,” Jim Harter at Gallup published what should have been headline breaking news. Based on the Gallup studies of the American workplace, only 50 percent of American workers strongly agreed they know what is expected at work. This figure has not changed significantly in the 2016 and 2017 reviews.

How on Earth can leaders expect their employees to execute their visions if half of their workforces are not sure of what is expected of them?

Most people want to do “good work.” But they need to understand the meaning of “good work.” If they don’t, frustration with unclear expectations can quickly lead to apathy. In short, unclear or conflicted expectations can lead to employees working just for a paycheck, instead of working for the organization. I can say from personal experience, as a customer and as a manager, those employees do not understand the value of customer service and are minimally productive.

Wisdom: Heat Shields Cooled by Horns?


Two bits of leadership advice learned in the school of hard knocks: “Be a heat shield, not a heat conductor, for your people,” and “if you aren’t tooting your own horn, some else will use it for a siphon.” (Heard from an Iron Major.)

Leaders must act as heat shields from outside friction and flames. Those who just pass criticism and complaints along, or amplify them, are no good to anyone. Heat conductor leaders are worse than redundant to their superiors, not taking the heat as a signal to plan and direct a course correction. Such leaders may be seen as puppets, and possibly cowards, by their own people. In any healthy organization, peers see the heat conductor failing to absorb the heat that comes everyone’s way occasionally. So, be a heat shield, not a heat conductor, for your people.

But every heat shield has a failure point, so just absorbing heat is not enough. Heat shields must be able to radiate away heat and may need cooling periods to sustain effectiveness. Since heat comes from real or perceived shortfalls in missions or metrics, a good leader is interested in what interests his boss and is very interested in what interests her boss. Both substance, and terms or turns of phrase used by bosses, inform a perceptive leader’s internal unit planning, directing, and correcting. Understanding your boss and boss’s boss is necessary, but not sufficient, to lower the heat.

Dumb Data, Blind Information, Enlightened Knowledge


For years we have heard that we must have data to make decisions. We are told, “You get what you measure”. The amount of data being collected today is greater than ever. Leaders and managers have all the data they could ever need to run their teams, departments, and organizations. And yet, we do not see a great transformation in management. What is going on?

Data says nothing. Mere facts are as mute as stones. Just as the geologist must pick up and examine those stones he finds; data must be reviewed, studied, and processed into information. Information is processed data that has meaning and is presented in a context. The number of clients seen in January was down, that is what the data shows. What it means, however, takes context, and more than the numbers spit out by the computer. It could mean staff were not as productive as needed, maybe the flu swept through the office, maybe the weather decreased client turn out. In short, only looking at the staff productivity, and taking nothing else into account, does not provide enough information to make decisions.

A Tale of Two Shootings


On Tuesday, January 23, there was a shooting at Marshall County High School in Benton, KY. Two students were killed (with 19 injured) by a fellow student. Less than one month later, a shooter killed 17 students (15+ injured) at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

I live in Nashville and watched the Kentucky shooting play out on the national news (though much more on local news, obviously) and I did the same on the day of the Florida shooting. It’s been startlingly obvious that the national media reaction and public frenzy has been decidedly different from the Kentucky shooting and I’ve been wondering why for the last few days.

This week marks Banter’s 300th episode. To commemorate this milestone, AEI President Arthur Brooks joined the show to discuss everything from AEI’s human dignity project and the future of free enterprise to the need for aspirational leadership in the face of a government shutdown. Arthur also updated us on some exciting upcoming AEI projects and left us with some unconventional fashion advice.

Learn More:

On this AEI Events Podcast, Martha’s Table President and CEO Patty Stonesifer provided insights from her career in the private sector, in the philanthropy space, and as the head of a nonprofit organization. In a conversation with AEI’s Toby Stock, Ms. Stonesifer discussed her years at Microsoft when the organization was a small but growing tech company with lofty ambitions. She continued with insight into her role working with Bill and Melinda Gates on creating and selecting a focus area for what would become the world’s largest charitable foundation—the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ms. Stonesifer discussed moving from the world of philanthropy to the world of nonprofit management, overseeing the DC-based social services organization Martha’s Table. The conversation focused on how to provide essential services for those who need it most, how nonprofit organizations can effectively communicate their work to external stakeholders, and how effective partnerships can help scale a nonprofit organization’s work. The event concluded with a look into the future of Martha’s Table, including the opening of two new locations in 2018.

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I’m finding it hard to put into words how sad, shocked and angry I feel about what happened over the weekend in the small, rural town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where twenty-six people were murdered and 20 injured, sitting in church, in yet another mass shooting. When I pulled up the news to find out […]

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