Managing and the Red Cross

bernadine-healy.jpgThe other day on “On Point,” I heard some astoundingly clear exposition of executive management, in the words of Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former CEO of the Red Cross. The program, Examining The Red Cross was promoted as:

When 9/11 came, the Red Cross was there — with mountains of Americans’ donations and support for the stricken. And then came criticism and the ouster of its chief.

When Hurricane Katrina came, the Red Cross was there again, with more mountains of American charity. And again came criticism — more heated this time — that the Red Cross response was too slow, too patchy, too heavy-handed. And again, yesterday, another chief of the organization was shown the door.

Dr. Healy was crystal clear on the need for governance and adherence to mission. She praised the effective response of some parts of the organization, and had specific examples of failures, like having no response at the Pentagon on 9/11, except two volunteers who showed up without support of their local organization.

Executive management is not complex. It is merely exceptionally hard. What needs to be done as a manager can be captured in a small book. (I suggest “What Management Is” by Joan Magretta.) What needs to be done to ensure that goals are properly set and met is often intellectually and emotionally challenging. Nevertheless, the high level goals are simple, and Dr. Healy expounded on them beautifully.