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News & Events

Director of the FBI Robert Mueller gave the opening keynote address at the Kellogg School's 2004 Leadership Conference.

Inspirational Leadership: Driving Change in Organizations

2004 Kellogg Leadership Conference shows how to make change in a good way

By Deborah Leigh Wood

11/1/2004 - Robert Mueller started his job as director of the FBI on Sept. 4, 2001. Whatever priorities he had for the agency went out the window one week later. His job swiftly shifted to one of transforming the FBI from a crime-focused organization to one devoted to combating terrorism. Mueller detailed his agency’s post-9/11 transformation, which he called a “long and difficult chess game,” in his opening keynote address at the Kellogg School of Management’s 2004 Leadership Conference Nov. 17 at the James L. Allen Center.

Entitled “Inspirational Leadership: Driving Change in Organizations,” the conference featured speakers and panelists from industry and the Kellogg faculty. The event was coordinated by Kellogg School students and sponsored by the Boston Consulting Group, Cargill, Target and Grainger.

Mueller said his first move was to “put the planes back into the air.” His second action was to try to prevent future attacks by charging 11,000 agents with the task of identifying terrorists throughout the world. Many of these agents had been working the drugs and crime beat in the United States, and the change didn’t sit well with all of them, Mueller said. His third priority was to develop a plan to make the FBI an international law enforcement and intelligence agency as a defense against future global terrorism.

“Some officials wanted the government to create a separate agency to handle terrorism,” Mueller said. He and others didn’t, and it never happened. Instead, Mueller concentrated on building on the strengths of his 12,000 agents stationed throughout the U.S. and in 45 countries.

“You have to identify leaders within your organization and make them part of your team,” Mueller advised his audience. Conventional wisdom says that when leaders make changes, “30 percent of your staff will be with you, 30 percent will need to be persuaded and the rest don’t want to sign on,” he said. Rather than remove recalcitrant employees, the one-time U.S. prosecutor said he prefers to first try to get them on board.

Mueller said his strategies don’t always work, and he “wrestles with mistakes.” A major one is micromanaging instead of “sitting in the balcony.” “People say I micromanaged the counterterrorism program, and they’re right,” he said. “I also micromanage how we handle Al Qaeda. There’s no alternative. I’m one of those people who has to fully understand the underpinnings.” Mueller said his other big mistake is falling behind in placing the appropriate technology at the FBI. The problem, he noted, lies in structuring the technology to match the agency’s business practices.

Edward Liddy, Allstate’s chairman, president and CEO, provided the conference’s closing keynote address. He called insurance “the oxygen of free enterprise” and spiritedly ticked off the basics of good leadership:

  • Have a compelling plan and get your employees to follow it.
  • Customize your leadership—one size does not fit all.
  • Connect leadership and change--you can’t have one without the other.
  • Repeat your message and keep it simple.
  • Stick with your plan but re-examine it if necessary. Know when to stick and when to shift.
  • Cultivate the “gentle art” of placing the right person in the right job.
  • Know when to reward your staff and then do so.
  • Perhaps most importantly, understand that leadership isn’t always the “one bold move.” Said Liddy: “It’s more like a series of small steps and flawless execution.”
“You have to identify leaders within your organization and make them part of your team,” Mueller advised his audience. Conventional wisdom says that when leaders make changes, “30 percent of your staff will be with you, 30 percent will need to be persuaded and the rest don’t want to sign on,” he said. Rather than remove recalcitrant employees, the one-time U.S. prosecutor said he prefers to first try to get them on board.

Mueller said his strategies don’t always work, and he “wrestles with mistakes.” A major one is micromanaging instead of “sitting in the balcony.” “People say I micromanaged the counterterrorism program, and they’re right,” he said. “I also micromanage how we handle Al Qaeda. There’s no alternative. I’m one of those people who has to fully understand the underpinnings.” Mueller said his other big mistake is falling behind in placing the appropriate technology at the FBI. The problem, he noted, lies in structuring the technology to match the agency’s business practices.

Edward Liddy, Allstate’s chairman, president and CEO, provided the conference’s closing keynote address. He called insurance “the oxygen of free enterprise” and spiritedly ticked off the basics of good leadership:

  • Have a compelling plan and get your employees to follow it.
  • Customize your leadership—one size does not fit all.
  • Connect leadership and change--you can’t have one without the other.
  • Repeat your message and keep it simple.
  • Stick with your plan but re-examine it if necessary. Know when to stick and when to shift.
  • Cultivate the “gentle art” of placing the right person in the right job.
  • Know when to reward your staff and then do so.
  • Perhaps most importantly, understand that leadership isn’t always the “one bold move.” Said Liddy: “It’s more like a series of small steps and flawless execution.”