What People Teach Us: Rex Tillerson – Taking The Pulse Of The Organization You Lead

Leadership Lesson: We need to listen for and understand what those in the organization, those committed to the mission, need in order to make the mission an ongoing success.

A United State diplomat, in a scathing resignation letter, chided Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and outlined both the deterioration and dysfunction of the U.S. State Department during his tenure, charging that he’s caved under the irresponsible strategy of the Trump Administration.

So, what can we take away from this case when it comes to leadership development?

Yes, this is an extreme example. It’s politics. It’s unconventional. It’s in the era of Trump. All bets are off. Both traditional wisdom and customs are abandoned. And the typical playbook of governmental leadership has long been discarded.

But, there’s always a lesson and reminder present within every story.

There may be many factors in this story which would never match the urgency and circumstances in our own lives, but the same general question could be asked of the Tillerson debacle which could be utilized in our everyday approach to our work.

How do we monitor how others’ view the mission and the steps we’re taking toward its achievement, maintenance, and continuation?

None of us is a secretary of state. And we’re not diplomats off in faraway lands. But most of us operate within an organization that is made up of leaders, bosses, rank-and-file, and the front line, so we all encounter the same kind of successes and obstacles.

How do we all make sure, whether as the leader or not, that leadership is aware of, and in tune with, the pulse of the organization?

To get that assurance, leaders and stakeholders should consider these points:

The Leader Needs At Least A Minimal Level Of Commitment To The Mission

In an ideal world, we want to make sure that the leader, whether hired or appointed, understands the inner workings and tradition in an organization.

This isn’t to say they need to continue everything as-is, but he or she needs to understand what has been important to so many about that organization.

Disrespecting the structure and tradition is oftentimes disrespecting those working in, and committed to, the organization, as well as other stakeholders inside or outside of the organization.

The People Need To Be Behind Him Or Her

The leader should take the pulse of the organization as he or she operates, in order to gauge the job they are doing and how those doing the front-line work view the direction of the organization.

This isn’t to say that the leader needs to buy in to everything the workers in the organization want. The leader will have to make decisions which are unpopular. But, he or she needs to work as best as possible to get buy-in from those workers.

Not feeling as if the buy-in from the workers is needed can appear disrespectful and dismissive, given what those people have provided to organization.

The Mission Needs To Continue

Aside from the specifics, which may change going forward, a leader should outline that the overall mission of the organization – generally, providing some kind of value – will continue.

This isn’t to say a leader can’t refine or adjust the mission based on changing times, competition, vision, strategy, and circumstances, but a leader needs to understand what it is in the mission, specifically, that anchors the resoluteness of the workforce.

People are proud. Reputation is part of that. People may tie themselves to the reputation of their organization. Forgoing or abandoning that reputation is perilous for a leader and organization’s stability.

The Mission Needs To Evolve

Finally, the mission should evolve. But before the specific lessons are shared in development of an organization to work toward that evolution, leaders should convey the general lesson that evolution is key.

This isn’t to say that a leader needs to take an organization completely out of its comfort zone. A leader should study and listen to his or her organization before making any wholesale changes upon which the organization needs to deliver. Yes, strike while the iron is hot, but let it warm up first.

People need to know that their organization will remain solvent, relevant, and effective in 5, 10, or 15 years from now, and beyond. A leader needs to demonstrate awareness of self, the environment, and the future.


It’s an egregious mistake when things get to such an obvious level of disarray in an organization, especially at such a storied institution as the United States State Department.

It’s one thing for an organization to falter due to ignorance toward competition, industry, or other unforeseen circumstances, but it’s another to be guilty of outright internal negligence.

In such governmental entities, the overall structure already exists. An appointee can come in and make changes at the highest level, and policy changes may take place, but those usually lead to small adjustments, since the underlying, broader foundation has already been set.

But to completely ignore the ongoing operations and effectiveness is irresponsible.

The first thing any leader should start with is an internal assessment, both of themselves and their organization.

Then, what are you really going to make of what’s in front of you?



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