In an opinion piece in the Washington Post Monday, former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen quoted a report from the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative research organization, asking why President Obama is “skipping“ his daily intelligence meetings and only showing up 44 percent of the time.
Thiessen quotes the report as saying that through mid-June 2012, the president “attended his PDB [presidential daily brief] just 536 times — or 43.8 percent of the time. During 2011 and the first half of 2012, his attendance became even less frequent — falling to just over 38 percent. By contrast,” Thiessen writes, Obama’s predecessor (and Thiessen’s former boss, it should be noted) “almost never missed his daily intelligence meeting.”
The White House responded by calling the column, which is currently one of the most read on the Post’s Web site and has sparked nearly 5,000 comments, “hilarious.” White House spokesperson Jay Carney said that Obama gets and reads the presidential daily briefing document every day and is “a voracious consumer of all of his briefing materials. And when he is physically here, most days he has a meeting in his office.” Meanwhile, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor wrote in an e-mail to Politico that “the President is among the most sophisticated consumers of intelligence on the planet” and that “most days when he’s at the White House receives a briefing in person.”
Whatever you think of the politics of the matter or the president’s foreign policy record, the debate raises an interesting leadership question.
Yes, there is value to be gotten from face-to-face meetings, in which the president would be able to see the body language of the people in the room with him when he asks probing questions, and hear the tone of voice used by intelligence officials when they respond to difficult queries. Face time builds trust and deepens relationships with the attendees. As Thiessen writes, “this process cannot be replicated on paper.”
And yet, making time on a daily basis for a face-to-face meeting with the same people amid all the president’s other obligations may not make sense. The president travels, for one. In addition, we all know how inefficient face-to-face meetings can be — people use them to tout their own achievements, stray from prepared agendas and run on unnecessarily, simply because they have a decision-maker in the room. When the meetings happen daily, those issues are compounded, especially if little has changed from day to day. The president is still reading the prepared remarks and still attends the meetings on a semi-regular basis. A 44-percent attendance rate means that on average he’s getting in at least a couple of face-to-face meetings a week.
Politics aside, how important are daily meetings for leaders on critical topics? Do you think the president is missing an opportunity to gain a more nuanced understanding of intelligence issues? Or does his reading of the intelligence documents and his regular, if not daily, attendance give him a way to lead efficiently while still getting the information he needs?
Read the original op-ed and share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear what you think.
More from On Leadership:
Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter: