Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Hallmark of an Effective Leader

Ever since Michael Grunwald ignored all the wailing on both the left and right about the American Recovery Act, I've been a big fan of his. And before I get to his more recent contribution, let me take a detour to point out that six years ago today, we celebrated President Obama's first inauguration. Twenty-eight days later (on February 17, 2009), he signed the ARA. Think about that for a moment...28 days to pass and sign the biggest stimulus package in this country's history!

Anyway, back to Grunwald. Just yesterday I was reflecting on how our media fueled the fear and hysteria about Ebola last fall, but has done almost nothing to tell us why there has been such success in containing an epidemic. And then along comes Grunwald to remedy that. He did it by interviewing Ron Klain - the man President Obama appointed to be the "Ebola Czar."

If you remember what happened at the time, a lot of people critiqued and/or laughed at this appointment because Klain was not a medical expert. Here's what he had to say about that:
I think people maybe had a misperception of what was needed. We had great medical advisers; the president was getting great advice from Dr. Fauci, from Dr. Frieden, who runs the CDC, from a panoply of other medical experts. I think the White House was looking for someone to come in and do the very unglamorous, bureaucratic coordination it takes to produce a response of this size. I think folks here knew I had done that with the Recovery Act and saw this as a very similar kind of project. It was taking a 14-or-15-agency response, a lot of great people, and making it all work together, figuring out where the seams were, figuring out what policy decisions needed to get made...

The medical science of what it takes to treat and stop the Ebola epidemic really isn’t that complicated. You just have to figure out who has the disease, isolate them from other people and get them some pretty basic treatments.

We needed some policy work on domestic response, how to figure out which hospitals to get ready to deal with this, how to put the right procedures in place to screen people who come in to the country and identify them in case one of them got sick and get them to the right place. The other thing we’ve had to do is make sure the science was informing our policy decision and not letting misperceptions or anxiety shape the policy decisions. But the science was clear.
One of the hallmarks of an effective leader is the ability to accurately diagnose a problem and bring in the people who have the skills to solve it. That's exactly what President Obama did in appointing Klain. The fact that almost no one is talking about Ebola these days speaks volumes about the outcome.

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