Professionalizing Leadership – the Expertise of Experience

I’ve just published an entire book – Professionalizing Leadership – on how badly we treat leadership. On how we treat it as a game for amateurs. On how we treat it as something that can be learned on the fly. On how we treat it as an occupation – not as a profession.

We elect to the White House a man with zero government experience, zero political experience, and zero military experience. We take seriously as a candidate for New York governor a smart and well-intentioned actress, Cynthia Nixon, who however lacks all familiarity with what it takes to govern. And when Oprah Winfrey delivers an inspiring speech at an awards ceremony, we immediately start to flutter about, touting her for high political office.

This miserable treatment of leadership as a task for which neither experience or expertise is required is evident again in President Trump’s appointment of Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. By all accounts Jackson is a good man and a good doctor. What he is not is an individual with extensive experience running an organization of any size, not to speak of one of the largest bureaucracies in the world. Jackson has, in other words, been given a task for which he is woefully ill-prepared.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is notoriously troubled. In other words, none of its recent executives has proven skilled in improving its services to its constituents.  So, for all I know, Jackson will defy my prediction. Maybe he will succeed where his immediate predecessors have failed. I certainly hope so. Still, there is something about appointing a leader who is a novice to a position of extreme importance that is, of itself, an insult. An insult to the exercise of leadership which should require in each and every circumstance rigorous education and training in preparation for the task at hand.


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