Sunday, April 26, 2015

Power At Any Price the case of Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly

The following article from Talking Points Memo is a few years old, but I wanted to share it because it illustrates what my friend and writing partner, Allen Laudenslager, and I have been preaching for years. Senior managers often promote and keep people in positions of power despite knowing their abrasive, immoral, and unethical management styles. It's willful ignorance on their part because they like the results. In other words, the ends justify the means. And it happens more often than you'd think in most organizations.

You have to ask yourself, "How did Lt. Gen. O'Reilly ever get past Lt. Colonel?" Simply put, he produced results. But at what price? He figuratively left a trail of bodies on his rise to the top. Well thankfully (now unceremoniously retired) Lt. Gen. O'Reilly's bad behavior finally caught up to him.  As for his superiors...well let's just say they all pleaded ignorance.


Missile Defense Agency Chief Was Nightmare Boss, IG's Office Says


The report, by the Defense Department's Inspector General's office, found that O'Reilly's leadership style was "inconsistent" with Defense Department and Army ethics and leadership regulations, that he "yelled and screamed at subordinates in both public and private settings," and that he "demeaned and belittled employees." It also found that O'Reilly's conduct "resulted in the departure of several senior staff members, and caused his senior officials to hesitate to speak up and raise issues during meetings with him."

The report was completed in May 2012, but not released to the public. It was obtained by Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy's The Cable blog. The IG's report recommended that the Secretary of the Army consider "appropriate corrective action" in regard to O'Reilly.

O'Reilly's leadership style is described by one person as "management by blowtorch and pliers." The same person compared O'Reilly to a "wife beater," meaning that he would "beat you in private, but -- you know, where the public can't see."

One incident the report examines in detail occurred in February 2010 in Tucson, Arizona. MDA personnel were in town for an executive steering committee meeting, but travel delays kept them from checking into their hotel, the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort, until 2 a.m. on the morning of the event. It was around then that several witnesses said they heard O'Reilly berating an employee for several minutes, demanding that the employee admit that they "fucked up."

"You fucked up, you tell me you fucked [up], you admit you fucked up," O'Reilly told his subordinate, while they stood near the hotel's elevators, according to one witness.

The issue? O'Reilly told investigators that he had previously informed MDA staff not to book hotels that used the word "resort" in their titles, because they created a perception of waste. He said he had been "dead tired" during the conversation, and that he only lost his temper when he felt that he wasn't getting the acknowledgement he wanted from the employee. From the report:

...O'Reilly further described the incident, which he stated took place in a private and secluded area of the resort. During the last minutes of a 10-20 minute conversation, he lost his composure, yelled, and cursed at two employees. He did not demand that the employees should use profanity and was surprised when one of them said she, "fucked up." He immediately apologized. 

The MDA employee in question, meanwhile, said that O'Reilly never apologized for the incident, but that O'Reilly did later thank him or her for arranging the meeting, and gave them a "Director's coin."

Most of the witnesses interviewed for the report said that O'Reilly is personally very intelligent, "even brilliant," but eight witnesses who spoke with the IG's office made statements along the lines of: "the worst manager I've ever worked for in 26 years of federal service," "as a leader, as a director, whatever, he's the worst," and "in terms of leadership, bottom." One witness said O'Reilly treated external stakeholders well, but staff poorly, and described him as "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

In a response to the preliminary report in March, O'Reilly disputed the the IG office's conclusions and questioned the objectivity and accuracy of witnesses. He denied ever yelling or screaming at anyone, or ever forcing a subordinate to use profane language. He called witnesses' versions of events "extrapolations of inaccurate perceptions of isolated incidents." Even after O'Reilly's response, the IG's office decided to stand by its conclusion.

O'Reilly, who became the director of MDA in 2008, began his career at the agency back in the 1990s. He is a a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and has Masters Degrees in Physics, National Security and Strategic Studies, and Business. Lieutenant General O'Reilly is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and Staff College, the U.S. Naval College of Command and Staff, and the U.S. Army War College. According to Foreign Policy, O'Reilly is scheduled to retire in November.
The MDA's mission is to "develop, test, and field an integrated, layered, ballistic missile defense system (BMDS) to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends against all ranges of enemy ballistic missiles in all phases of flight."

37 witnesses were interviewed as part of the IG office's investigation, including 24 current and former MDA senior officials.


Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website?s front page. He has previously written for The Daily,, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at

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