Last week I found myself at Barnes & Noble - the giant book retailer that, lately, seems to have more locations than Wal-Mart.
As I passed by its gargantuan reference section, I marveled at how many books have been authored on leadership.
Depending on which level of leadership you aspire to, you can select from authors as diverse as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to basketball coaching legend John Wooden.
But despite the reams of leadership tomes available, apparently no one in any position of authority on a local, state or federal level bothered to glance at one when it came to either their response to or preparation for Hurricane Katrina.
Much has been written about the glacial response from Washington in its efforts to ease the apocalyptic suffering left behind by our version of the Asian tsunami. I'm sure you won't find too many who don't think there's plenty of blame to go around.
Let's start at the local level.
The only din louder than the incredible suffering of the residents who remained behind, was the wailing of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. This elected official, who, incredibly, was once a top-level executive at a major communications company, appears incapable of organizing a Cub Scout outing. He ushered roughly 30,000 people into a domed stadium without the foresight to supply sufficient food, water or even cots, and then seemed exasperated as to just who was responsible for providing relief after the levees collapsed.
Can you imagine Rudy Giuliani -- or even current New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- allowing that to happen?
At the state level, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco appeared as confused as a contestant who drew a blank on the Final Jeopardy question. She seemed far more overwhelmed than someone in that position should be in the event of an emergency.
Then there's the whole debate over the federal response - or, more accurately, the belated Keystone Kops effort -- showcasing quite obviously that organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Homeland Security Department are more concerned with preventing a terrorist attack than dealing with a natural disaster.
After September 11, President Bush - who, in no uncertain terms, deserves much of the criticism leveled upon him in the aftermath of this tragedy -- inexplicably centralized disaster planning in Washington, once again illustrating the inability of government to run anything.
But analysis of failed leadership at all levels won't do much to alleviate the incredible suffering throughout the Gulf Coast. A number of organizations -- outside the traditional agencies, such as the Red Cross -- have established relief efforts, include many in the profession such as the American Institute of CPAs, local state CPA societies, the Internal Revenue Service and vendors such as CCH.
In the interim, the above-mentioned leadership may benefit from a visit to the reference section of Barnes & Noble.
The only greater tragedy than the one that just occurred would be another round of failed leadership should it happen again.
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