Leadership at the FBI

May 8, 2018

 

I’d like to stick with current events again for this blog and discuss the leadership at the FBI over the past year and a half. It’s not my intent to analyze the events from a political perspective but rather purely from an objective view of the role the leadership has played in the situation. I think we can all agree up front, the Office of the FBI has been in turmoil for the last 18 months. It’s not surprising to see multiple news stories each day with new or updated allegations of wrongdoing carried out by individuals in the bureau or simply mistakes in the routine performance of their primary role of law enforcement. Obviously, the situation they find themselves in is not conducive to carrying out the significant duties of the FBI. So, how did the previous leader allow his team to get into this situation and what is the current leader doing to turn this destructive environment around?

 

To understand the situation from a leadership perspective it’s necessary first to know the mission and goal of the FBI. Knowing the mission and goal of any organization is the most important ingredient for a leader to formulate his or her intent and provide clear guidance to the team on the performance of their duties. The FBI’s mission is to perform as the nation’s lead law enforcement agency specializing in US counterterrorism, counterintelligence and criminal investigations. Its main tenant, as stated in the oath of office, taken by every member of the bureau is “to support and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The first and foremost premise of this goal is to always put the good of the nation and preservation of the Constitution over any individual desire or objective. Personal agendas should never come in conflict with the clearly stipulated mission of an organization. In addition, the leader is responsible to ensure no person or process interferes with the mission. If an allegation is raised about an individual subverting the mission or acting unethically, even if it is merely a perception, the leader has two explicit duties to address the situation. First, he or she should privately confront the individual and determine the circumstances of the incident. And secondly, if there is enough reasonable evidence to suggest an impropriety took place, the leader should immediately task someone to investigate the incident. In either case, it’s his or her duty to inform their supervisor of the allegations and the remedy to resolve the situation. In this way, the leader fulfills all of his or her responsibilities to their supervisor, instills trust and confidence from their team and the customers they serve.

 

If we relate these responsibilities with the previous FBI director, it can be concluded he did not perform any of these responsibilities to the satisfaction of his chain of command. Not only did he leave the alleged behavior uninvestigated, he also withheld the information from the executive and legislative branches of our government-fully outside the framework of our Constitution. I will not address his motivation to act in this manner but it’s not surprising his actions clearly put his organization in the cross hairs of the President, Congress and the public he was charged to serve. The director put his self-serving agenda in front of the mission of the FBI.

 

This director was fired in May 2017. It’s now one year later and there is still no resolution to this situation. The same allegations from 18 months ago are still unanswered and new ones are uncovered by Congress and the media nightly as more evidence is brought to light. What has the new director done to correct the situation and get his team back to performing the important mission and responsibilities of the bureau? Clearly any actions that may have been taken by the new director have had little to no effect on correcting the course of this organization. Both the executive and legislative branches of government are still completely dissatisfied with the pace and remedy of the FBI’s resolution of this situation. Information requested by the executive and legislative branch, who have oversight authority established in the constitution, has been purposely withheld and denied by the director. The entire situation has become a legal stalemate and reinforced the mounting distrust of the government by the citizens of our country.

 

The best way for me to address the shortcomings of the current director is to provide the leadership course of actions he should have taken to resolve this situation and get the FBI back on track. First, he should have met his staff and informed them of his intent to immediately resolve the open investigations, commit to complete transparency with the other branches of government and regain the trust of the public. If his staff members showed an unwillingness to move out on his intent, he should have immediately replaced them. Secondly, he should have received an update from the Inspector General on the progress of the investigations. He should have proactively removed any impediments to resolving the completion of fair and unbiased investigations and directed a final report be completed and on his desk in 90 days. The next step should have been to have his legal counsel review all subpoenas requesting information and release everything possible to those offices requesting the information. Additionally, a press conference should have been held to provide the public the most up to date information with clear delineation of the director’s intent to resolve the situation expeditiously. After the report was completed and if individuals were found to be in violation of laws, policies and ethical standards, he should have issued swift, fair disciplinary action in accordance with Federal code. Another press conference would be necessary to update the country on the results of the investigation. This is the only way for this situation to be resolved to get the FBI back on course and start to revive the public’s trust and confidence in their law enforcement bureau.

 

There is no more important time for resolute leadership than during a crisis. [See Honez’s Blog: Leadership in Times of Crisis].  The leader must maintain focus on the mission while remaining vigilant to identify improper behavior, inform their supervisor, investigate the allegations, discipline individuals who broke the law and remain transparent to the people they serve. I’ll leave it up to you to determine if the previous and current FBI directors lived up to these responsibilities.

 

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