Lessons In Leadership From Ellen McCarthy and Her Journey From Junior Analyst To The Most Senior Echelons of the Intelligence Community
Ellen McCarthy is a highly accomplished and distinguished executive whose career started as a junior analyst and ended up reaching to the very highest echelons of the US intelligence community. In this OODAcast we explore lessons learned from her journey, capturing insights that can inform actions for those at any stage of a career.
Ellen’s career began at the office of Naval Intelligence. She then moved to Norfolk and the Atlantic Intelligence Center (where we first met). She moved back to DC and would later lead all intelligence activities for the US Coast Guard as their director of intelligence, then joined DoD’s office of the undersecretary of defense for intelligence working strategy and human capital management.
Later she led the non profit public private partnership INSA (the intelligence and national security alliance), helping make that organization what it is today.
She returned to government service as chief operating officer of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), then later led the firm Noblis as its president.
Ellen was then appointed the Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR), where she lead an organization famed for the highest quality of analysis in the US IC.
We examine her leadership style, which was informed by exposure to several types of leaders early on in her career. Over time she developed a knack for creating visions that could help others form up on a unified purpose. She also thrived in the domain of executive action, which could come in incredibly handy when appointed to the number three position at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). We discuss examples of her decision-making and tools any of us can put in place to optimize our perspectives. This includes the strong recommendation to know history. In her case she benefited from a deep dive into the history of one of the great transformational leaders of the intelligence community, Wild Bill Donovan, creator and leader of the Office of Special Services (OSS), a forerunner of the organization she would later lead, the Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
Organizations in competitive environments should continually look for ways to gain advantage over their competitors. The ability of a business to learn and translate that learning into action, at speeds faster than others, is one of the most important competitive advantages you can have. This fact of business life is why the model of success in Air to Air combat articulated by former Air Force fighter pilot John Boyd, the Observe – Orient – Decide – Act (OODA) decision loop, is so relevant in business decision-making today.
In this business model, decisions are based on observations of dynamic situations tempered with business context to drive decisions and actions. These actions should change the situation meaning new observations and new decisions and actions will follow. This all underscores the need for a good corporate intelligence program. See: A Practitioner’s View of Corporate Intelligence
This post dives into actionable recommendation on ways to optimize a corporate intelligence effort. It is based on a career serving large scale analytical efforts in the US Intelligence Community and in applying principles of intelligence in corporate America. See: Optimizing Corporate Intelligence
Cognitive Bias and the errors in judgement they produce are seen in every aspect of human decision-making, including in the business world. Companies that have a better understanding of these cognitive biases can optimize decision making at all levels of the organization, leading to better performance in the market. Companies that ignore the impact these biases have on corporate decision-making put themselves at unnecessary risk. This post by OODA Co-Founder Bob Gourley provides personal insights into key biases as well as mitigation strategies you can put in place right now. See: An Executive’s Guide To Cognitive Bias in Decision Making
We strongly encourage every company, large or small, to set aside dedicated time to focus on ways to improve your ability to understand the nature of the significantly changed risk environment we are all operating in today, and then assess how your organizational thinking should change. As an aid to assessing your corporate sensemaking abilities, this post summarizes OODA’s research and analysis into optimizing corporate intelligence for the modern age. See: OODA On Corporate Intelligence In The New Age
This post discusses standards in intelligence, a topic that can improve the quality of all corporate intelligence efforts and do so while reducing ambiguity in the information used to drive decisions and enhancing the ability of corporations to defend their most critical information. See: Useful Standards For Corporate Intelligence
Broadly speaking, a weapon is anything that provides an advantage over an adversary. In this context, data is, and always has been, a weapon. This post, part of our Intelligent Enterprise series, focuses on how to take more proactive action in use of data as a weapon. See: Data is a Weapon
Fine Tuning Your Falsehood Detector: Time to update the models you use to screen for deception, dishonesty, corruption, fraud and falsity
The best business leaders are good at spotting falsehoods. Some joke and say the have a “bullshit detector”, but that humorous description does not do service to the way great leaders detect falsehoods. Bullshit is easy to detect. You see it and smell it and if you step in it it is your own fault. In the modern world falsehoods are far more nuanced. Now more than ever, business and government leaders need to ensure their mental models for detecting falsehood are operating in peak condition. For more see: Fine Tuning Your Falsehood Detector: Time to update the models you use to screen for deception, dishonesty, corruption, fraud and falsity