On Leadership: Essential Principles for Business, Political, and Personal Success

On Leadership: Essential Principles for Business, Political, and Personal Success

by Donald J. Palmisano


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On Leadership: Essential Principles for Business, Political, and Personal Success by Donald J. Palmisano

Every day, leaders around the world make decisions that affect millions of people. The results of these decisions are mixed. Sometimes—like when Nelson Mandela led the fight against apartheid—our leaders inspire positive change on a grand scale. But at other times—like when various leaders failed to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina—poor leadership yields disastrous outcomes. Anyone can claim to be a leader in times of calm, but crisis situations sift the true visionaries from the false ones. Recent events in global affairs make it increasingly apparent that nations must cultivate and encourage true leaders—and eschew false ones—if they hope to survive.

Fortunately, effective leadership is a skill that can be taught, especially through the study of exemplary figures of the past. In each chapter of On Leadership , Dr. Donald J. Palmisano cites an example of positive or negative action as a source from which to glean essential leadership lessons. Through guided analysis of each real-life situation, readers will learn detailed, practical methods and strategies for becoming true leaders. This second edition includes two new chapters which are highly applicable to today’s issues: "Leadership in Crisis: The British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill," and "Emerging Leaders in a Time of Crisis." On Leadership provides crucial advice for those who aspire to become effective leaders in any position.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616082314
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication date: 05/01/2011
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Donald J. Palmisano, is a graduate of Tulane Medical School and Loyola Law School. Former president of the AMA, he serves on the board of governors of the National Patient Safety Foundation, the editorial board of the Journal of Patient Safety, and the board of governors of the Doctors Company. He teaches leadership in medicine as clinical professor at Tulane Medical School and lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. A sought-after speaker at national meetings, he frequently contributes Op-Eds and does media commentary on national TV and radio.

Read an Excerpt



Be willing to make decisions. That's the most important quality in a good leader. Don't fall victim to what I call the "ready-aim-aim-aim-aim syndrome." You must be willing to fire.

— General George S. Patton, Jr.

During the final weekend of August 2005, millions of people along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico held their collective breath as Hurricane Katrina, one of modern history's most powerful storms, approached landfall. By Saturday, August 27, Katrina seemed poised to score a direct hit on the city of New Orleans.

The following morning, at 10:11 a.m., the National Weather Service office in New Orleans issued a message marked "URGENT." "Devastating damage expected," the message read,

Hurricane Katrina, a most powerful hurricane with unprecedented strength, rivaling the intensity of Hurricane Camille of 1969 ... Most of the [New Orleans] area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer. ... All wood-framed, low-rising apartment buildings will be destroyed. ... All gabled roofs will fail. ... High-rise office and apartment buildings will sway dangerously. ... Airborne debris will be widespread. And may include heavy items such as household appliances and even light vehicles. Sport utility vehicles and light trucks will be moved. Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards. ... The vast majority of native trees will be snapped or uprooted. Only the heartiest will remain standing, but will be totally defoliated.

When Hurricane Katrina raged its way ashore in the predawn hours of Monday, August 29, its center was miles outside of New Orleans's eastern boundary. As darkness gave way to daylight, the weather bureau's predictions proved to be somewhat off the mark. Hurricane-force winds and rain had indeed wrought major damage from one end of town to the other. But the city had escaped the apocalyptic events that were forecast.

During the three previous days, about three quarters of New Orleans's population fled to inland points in all directions but south. By Monday midmorning, families in hotel rooms from Houston to Dallas and Memphis readied themselves to return home, eager to discover how their residences and businesses had fared.

Shortly before noon, five or six hours after the hurricane left the city, television and radio reports announced a new crisis. Along Lake Pontchartrain, which forms New Orleans's northern boundary, levees were giving way. In a matter of hours, five breaks in three levees submerged seventy-five percent of the city. In some places the depths reached eight feet or more.

By early afternoon hundreds of people were walking through the inner city in chest-high water, desperately looking for higher ground. Hundreds more were washed away in the streets. Many of those who stayed in their homes or managed to find their way back had to climb into attics to escape the water and then hack their way to the rooftops. Some perished in their attics. Others died on their roofs, from exposure or hunger or both.

They were among the multitude of New Orleanians, many of them poor, who had chosen to ride out the storm. Their reasons varied: About one hundred thousand residents had no means of personal transportation, or the money to get it. Others were too old or feeble to risk an arduous trip. Many wanted to protect their possessions from post-hurricane thieves and vandals. Still others couldn't face the prospect of evacuation, which could mean hundreds of miles of slow-moving traffic and fuel shortages.

Substituting Excuses for Leadership

I was born in Louisiana. I've spent almost my entire life there. And I believe that a sizeable number of those who stayed had acquired over the years a kind of go-it-alone attitude when forced to make a possible life or death choice. Where did this attitude come from? Many no doubt read and listened to one account after another demonstrating that their local and state officials could not be trusted when the time came for critical decision making.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin issued the evacuation order twenty hours before Katrina struck the Louisiana coast — less than half the time researchers determined would be needed to get everyone out. According to one expert in transportation planning who had helped the city put together its evacuation plan, city officials had 550 municipal buses and hundreds of additional school buses at their disposal, but had made no plans to use them to get people out. One high-ranking city employee later reported that the school buses couldn't be used because they were partly submerged and the keys to start them couldn't be found. The mayor's excuse was that drivers weren't available, meaning that the city's emergency planners failed to commit them in advance.

On Thursday, September 1, the fourth day after the hurricane struck, Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), revealed to CNN's Paula Zahn that government officials had not been aware for days that — besides the hurricane victims stranded in the Louisiana Superdome — thousands more had taken refuge in the New Orleans Convention Center about a mile away:

Brown: "And so, this — this catastrophic disaster continues to grow. I will tell you this, though. Every person in that convention center, we just learned about that today. And so, I have directed that we have all available resources to get to that convention center to make certain that they have the food and water, the medical care that they need."

Zahn: "Sir, you aren't telling me ..."

Brown: " ... and that we take care of those bodies that are there."

Zahn: "Sir, you aren't telling me you just learned that the folks at the convention center didn't have food and water until today, are you? You had no idea they were completely cut off?"

Brown: "Paula, the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today."

Later, Brown would say he was wrong, and that FEMA actually knew about the victims at the convention center twenty-four hours earlier but was unable to reach them until Thursday.

Could anyone have anticipated and planned for this crisis? The need for timely evacuation, transport of those who could not help themselves, and the risk of flooding in the below sea-level bowl that is New Orleans had been clearly spelled out in 2004, the year before Katrina struck, in a three-day-long practice scenario named "Hurricane Pam." The purpose of that exercise, which focused on a hypothetical hurricane similar to Katrina in its effect, was to develop a recovery plan for the thirteen parishes (the Louisiana equivalent of counties) in the New Orleans area. It involved more than 250 emergency preparedness officials from more than fifty federal, state and local agencies and volunteer organizations. A FEMA press release of July 23, 2004, had this to say about the hypothetical Hurricane Pam:

"We made great progress this week in our preparedness efforts," said Ron Castleman, FEMA Regional Director. "Disaster response teams developed action plans in critical areas such as search and rescue, medical care, sheltering, temporary housing, school restoration and debris management. These plans are essential for quick response to a hurricane but will also help in other emergencies."

Yet a year later, no one in the corridors of power appeared to have heeded the report's distinct and repeated warnings. Chairman Tom Davis of the Congressional Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina said on December 15, 2005, at the Hearing on Preparedness and Response in Louisiana, "[Hurricane Exercise] Pam was so very prescient. And yet Katrina highlighted many, many weaknesses that either were not anticipated by Pam, or were lessons learned but not heeded. That's probably the most painful thing about Katrina, and the tragic loss of life: the foreseeability of it all." The Select Committee stated in the executive summary:

The Select Committee identified failures at all levels of government that significantly undermined and detracted from the heroic efforts of first responders, private individuals and organizations, faith-based groups, and others. ... The institutional and individual failures we have identified became all the more clear compared to the heroic efforts of those who acted decisively. Those who didn't flinch, who took matters into their own hands when bureaucratic inertia was causing death, injury, and suffering. Those whose exceptional initiative saved time and money and lives.

Leadership Versus Opportunism

Anyone can pass for a leader in a problem-free world. Many people in positions of power perform quite capably in the absence of controversy or danger. True leaders emerge when a crisis has to be confronted, when an important problem has to be assessed, and decisive action has to be taken.

Philosopher George Santayana said in Reason in Common Sense, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Yet in the case of public officials, we see the same failures by people who were elected to lead but instead repeat and even compound the errors of their predecessors. Too often in present day politics events are allowed to unfold without the critical intervention needed to save the day. What is the reason for this recurrent problem? Is it that voters choose the candidate who panders to them the most?

There is probably no limit to the different ways officeholders can abdicate their leadership responsibilities. One common example is role reversal, in which someone who was chosen to lead instead becomes a follower.

Evaluating a political candidate's leadership potential is difficult in an environment where a candidate's core principles have to take a backseat to polling and survey results. Too many candidates delay their decisions on issues until the poll numbers are known. Perhaps a variation of the following imaginary conversation takes place in many a campaign:

Candidate: "What do the poll numbers show?"

Campaign manager: "They show that sixty-two percent favor the construction of a levee closer to the water's edge."

Candidate: "Then I'll advocate that position in my keynote speech tonight."

Campaign manager: "But the nonpartisan scientific panel found that the soil in that area will not support a levee."

Candidate: "Find other individuals with degrees behind their names who support the poll's position. Let's not be foolish here. Who knows where the truth lies? We must represent the people."

The most generous argument one can make for this candidate is that he or she can at least make a decision.

Dante Alighieri, the thirteenth-century Italian poet and writer, defines this personality dramatically in his Divine Comedy. Among the scoundrels populating Dante's Inferno is a group of souls, "The Opportunists," in the Vestibule of Hell who had refused to take sides in battle. These scoundrels spend their time in hell scurrying to and fro, chasing a blank banner, avoiding decisions and willing to accept any value system rather than adhere to a single set of valid core principles. Dante shows his particular disdain for these Opportunists by having them continually suffer the stings of hornets.

More than two and a half years after the hurricane, issues critical to New Orleans's poststorm recovery are still being debated. In fact, problems that date back to 1965, when Hurricane Betsy ravaged the city, still haven't been addressed by those chosen to lead.

In September 1965, the day after Betsy struck New Orleans, the city's mayor broadcast an emergency request stating that any available doctor should report to City Hall. I responded to the call, and when I arrived at the mayor's office he handed me a piece of paper with an address written on it. "Rush to this storm shelter," he said. "People need medical help now." At the shelter I found about 2,000 people, many in dire need of care. One was a diabetic woman who had no supply of vital insulin.

I asked one of the volunteers where the medical supplies were. "There are none," was the answer.

"Where's the telephone?" I asked. "There is no phone," I was told.

During the four plus decades that have elapsed since Hurricane Betsy, I've found very little change in the city's ability to respond effectively in a major disaster.

In the aftermath of Katrina, severed communication was once again blamed for delayed assistance and widespread human suffering. As soon as I realized communications were dismal because of lack of preparation, I managed to obtain donations of communications equipment and began distributing them to other physicians helping to provide disaster relief.

By November of 2007, more than two years after Katrina, state government had distributed at least twenty-eight "interoperable radios" to each parish, according to parish officials. But the state had yet to establish uniform procedures for their use during a disaster. One Louisiana sheriff complained that twenty-eight radios per parish were not nearly enough to link all the local first responders on call during disasters. He added, "There is no control policy on what channels or whatever to use. We're spending tons of money on structure, but we still can't communicate."

Meanwhile, tens — perhaps hundreds — of thousands of New Orleanians were still waiting for government officials to decide or take action on storm-related issues crucial to their return to normal lives — issues like removing debris, controlling crime, providing an adequate water supply, and repairing badly damaged streets. Serious doubts remained that governments at all levels were prepared to deal effectively with another similar disaster.

Decisiveness is Critical

In the months following Katrina, citizens, state and federal officials, engineers and other experts wrangled over the issue of improving the levee systems in Louisiana's coastal areas. Citizens and interest groups were demanding a restructuring of the state's various regional "levee boards," whose members oversaw the maintenance of the water-retaining structures.

The backpedaling and dawdling coming from the governor's office in December 2005 prompted James Gill, a columnist at the New Orleans daily newspaper, The Times-Picayune, to comment:

Today Gov. Kathleen Blanco is in favor of levee board reform, but yesterday she seemed intent on scuttling it. Earlier it seemed she couldn't care less. Where she will stand tomorrow is a matter of speculation. So insistent has been the public clamor for reform that Blanco was finally forced to take her fingers out of her ears. ... Blanco has been in politics long enough to have a sense of the voters' mood. Ever since Katrina, everyone has been waiting for her to do something — anything. Instead, it seemed we were in for more procrastination and another retreat from the fray.

Needlessly delaying or agonizing over decisions is not leadership. World War II's General George Patton correctly identified decisiveness as a critical element in being an effective leader.

Michael Bloomberg is a public official who knows what Patton is talking about. His first election as mayor of New York came two months after the attack on that city's World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. During his second term he took his first tour of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina had inflicted on New Orleans. At one point during the tour he stopped to say, "I'm not here to brag about New York. You know New Yorkers are famously modest and shy," he quipped. "But our recovery didn't happen by accident. It happened because we did what we were hired to do: to lead and to manage for results."

Those final two sentences of Bloomberg's statement are what leadership is all about.

Lessons Learned

• The flawed or insufficient responses to the devastation in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina are a textbook example of a lack of leadership.

• Leadership is not indecision. It is not procrastination. It is not disorganization. It is not lack of preparation. Leaders are not missing in action. Leaders are visible and make decisions in emergencies with the information available.

• False leaders are everywhere during times of calm, and then are inept and indecisive in an emergency.

• To prevent future failures, past failures must be studied. Lessons learned must be implemented.



Danger invites rescue; the cry of distress is the summons to relief.

— Judge Benjamin Cardozo, 1921

Some years ago, on a steamy August day in New Orleans, police rushed to a bungalow in a middle-income neighborhood, where a troubled man held several hostages at gunpoint.

Arriving at the scene, the squad cars clustered near the curb as the man watched from a window. He held a gun to the head of one of the hostages.

Once the police assessed the situation, the ranking officer had to come up with a tactic that would avoid bloodshed. Storming the house was out of the question. A lengthy standoff could intensify matters and increase the dangers the hostages faced.


Excerpted from "On Leadership"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Donald J. Palmisano.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana ix

Introduction xi

Chapter 1 The Antithesis of Leadership 1

Chapter 2 Advice from the Past: Foundation of Success 15

Chapter 3 The Essentials of Leadership: Success Cornerstones and More 21

Chapter 4 A Primer on "Homework" 29

Chapter 5 Courage 49

Chapter 6 Persistence: "Don't Give Up!" 61

Chapter 7 Decisiveness 73

Chapter 8 Communication 79

Chapter 9 Creativity and Acquiring the State of Mind Necessary for Success 109

Chapter 10 Interpersonal Relationships 119

Chapter 11 Finding Truth 129

Chapter 12 Financial Considerations and Fiduciary Responsibility 145

Chapter 13 Expanding Your Horizons 157

Chapter 14 Putting Information Technology to Use 171

Chapter 15 Bullies, an Impediment to Leadership 183

Chapter 16 Some Leaders You May Never Have Heard of (and Some You Have) 187

Chapter 17 Leadership in Crisis: The British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill 229

Chapter 18 Emerging Leaders in a Time of Crisis 239

Epilogue 255

Acknowledgments 259

Notes 263

Index 295

What People are Saying About This

Bobby Jindal

Donald Palmisano has built himself into not only a successful surgeon and businessman, but a strong leader as well.

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