“I wish to God you protected the White House like you’re protecting your reputation here today,” Lynch said at a recent Congressional hearing examining recent security breaches within the Secret Service.
Shortly after Lynch’s devastating comment, Pierson resigned her post, bringing to an end a brief and somewhat tragic tenure leading the Secret Service.
Pierson was under intense scrutiny in the wake of numerous high-profile scandals. A barrage of stories about slipshod security and breached protocols by the agency charged with, among other things, protecting President Barack Obama became more widespread.
The latest incident on September 19 involved a knife-wielding intruder who jumped the fence outside the White House and got all the way into the iconic residence before being apprehended.
Initially, Pierson signed off on a news release indicating the intruder had only made it a few steps inside a door to the White House. Ten days later, it was learned the intruder actually got deep inside the building.
It appeared at first Pierson might survive the furor as President Obama continued to express his confidence in her (the first woman to ever head up the Secret Service).
Unfortunately, soon after another story arose questioning Pierson’s leadership. This time, it was how an armed private security guard with a long criminal record was allowed to share an elevator with Obama when he was visiting the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.
That incident actually took place a few days before the armed intruder stormed the White House. Despite that, Pierson made no mention of the CDC incident when she was grilled by legislators on Capitol Hill.
Concealing details of those two incidents spelled doom for the director. Why? It clearly created the impression that as a leader she seemed more interested in protecting herself or more bluntly covering her butt rather than truly turning around the agency.
So there was little surprise when Pierson finally decided to resign last week. It was the only credible thing she could do.
There is no doubt that, as a leader, Pierson was correct to offer her resignation. However, that gesture came well after the damage was done to her organization and to herself. I’m sure that she, along with the people who supported her appointment, would have preferred she demonstrated stronger leadership well before things got so out of control.
From a distance it appears that Pierson knew there were problems at the Secret Service. But rather than implement solutions, she tried to cover up what was really going on. And now, the Secret Service is worse off than when she arrived.
At the end of the day, that was her undoing: when it really mattered, she became concerned with her own reputation, rather than truly leading the Secret Service.
When the problems mounted she withheld information and moved to self-protection rather than truly being the leader that was needed in a time of crisis.
This week’s Gut Check question asks: Do you place your personal reputation above that of your organization?
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About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro