Conversations with Authors: Prof. Harry Lambright on Leaders and Leadership – Lessons from Robert Gates, Francis Collins, and NASA Administrators

March 25, 2013

In the case of Robert Gates, the report focuses on his efforts to transform weapons procurement at DOD. Upon returning to government in 2006 as secretary of defense, Gates concluded that he had an opportunity to rein in the cost of defense weapons procurements and halt the production of unneeded weapons.

In the case of Francis Collins, the report focuses on his efforts to transform NIH by creating a new institute, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which Collins believed would serve as a catalyst to change the culture of NIH. Collins sought to enhance NIH’s capability to translate its knowledge in addressing what the public needs from drugs and treatment.

Professor Lambright found many similarities in the challenges faced by Gates and Collins, as well as their effective responses to these challenges. Lambright concludes that experience and leadership skills really do matter, and that both leaders set clear goals and offered clarity as to means. The report also describes how both overcame opposition to their transformation initiatives.

As noted above, this report builds upon prior research by the IBM Center for The Business of Government on the crucial topics of leadership and transformation. In 2011, the IBM Center published A Leader’s Guide to Transformation: Developing a Playbook for Successful Change Initiatives by Robert A. F. Reisner.

Forging Governmental Change is the sixth report prepared by Professor Lambright for the IBM Center. In 2002, Professor Lambright chronicled the experience of Francis Collins, then director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, in his report Managing “Big Science:” A Case Study of the Human Genome Project. Lambright’s research for the IBM Center also includes leadership case studies of three recent administrators of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Dan Goldin (2001), Sean O’Keefe (2005), and Michael Griffin (2009).

Listen to the first segment of the interview.

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