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Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, talked to Kellogg students about the transformation of the agency after the terrorist attacks.

Robert Mueller

Rising to the challenge

One week after taking office, FBI Director Robert Mueller faced the ultimate management crisis: 9/11

By Amy Trang

1/16/2009 - Robert Mueller was given a prompt test of leadership when he stepped into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s director position just a week before Sept. 11, 2001.

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Click here to watch a video of Robert Mueller's presentation.
(This video is password protected for the Kellogg community)
“Sept. 11 was a watershed event for the organization,” Mueller said. “Before 9/11, the FBI was looked at as an entity that after attacks would gather evidence, investigate and bring people to justice. After 9/11, we were now in the business of preventing terrorist attacks.”

Mueller spoke to a full audience at the Kellogg School on Jan. 15 about leadership and the transformation of the FBI after 9/11. The speech was sponsored by the school’s Business Leadership Club.

As director of the FBI, Mueller oversees an agency of more than 30,000 employees and 116 offices worldwide. He also manages a $7 billion dollar budget, which has more than doubled since his tenure began.

Mueller noted that 9/11 brought about an abrupt shift in the agency’s priorities, from a focus on criminal activities to counterterrorism. The FBI had to be more open about sharing security information with other agencies, including the CIA, NSA and local law enforcement, he said. And, he added, the agency’s leaders had to be vocal and upfront about these new priorities with all employees.

“It’s a balance of moving the organization to change but also bringing people along in the change,” Mueller said. “It’s about building an organization that is proud of the work that it does but not changing it so much that people rebel.”

Mueller said his biggest leadership challenges have been related to personnel. The test, he said, is to pick a person for the right position at the right time.
“It takes care to figure out the position for a person and also to give them the tools to be successful in that position,” Mueller said.

Mueller added that the ability to delegate is an important asset in a leader, but he said that leaders should recognize that there are some issues that can’t be delegated. He noted, for example, the agency’s efforts in counterterrorism and his need to continue to oversee that area.

“A subject that is critical to the organization may be something that you may have to do yourself,” Mueller said.