170 From the Bureau to the Boardroom
out their careers. Most have taken a pay cut just to belong to the
organization.
We should all be so lucky!
With such a workforce, the managerial ‘‘challenges’’ are
often the reverse of those encountered in the business commu-
nity. Instead of cracking the whip to increase production, field
supervisors often find themselves telling their agents to go home
and get some sleep. Rather than searching for volunteers, they
must choose from a roomful of raised hands. Instead of assigning
difficult cases to individual agents, the agents often bring the
cases to them and ask for permission to begin an investigation
that may involve risk of life and limb. And rather than having to
‘‘pump up’’ the rank and file with inspirational pep talks, they
are humbled by the indefatigable commitment throughout the
organization.
Nonetheless, the management principles used in support of
the natural exuberance of the street agent have significance for
all of us in the business community concerned with cultivating
and maintaining higher levels of performance.
Cultivate Good Cheer
A career in law enforcement, and in the FBI specifically, has
emotional challenges above and beyond those faced by the rest
of us. The work, by its very nature, offers little psychological
shelter. FBI agents are exposed to an incessant bombardment
of negative karma: murderers; kidnappers; hate-filled terrorists;
vicious gangbangers; serial killers; pedophiles; and all other man-
ifestations of human greed, depravity, and fanaticism. For most
citizens, the workplace offers a distraction from the evil that
Managing the Highly Motivated 171
men do, but for the agent, the office is the focal point of soci-
ety’s organized defense against that evil. There is no effort to
disguise that fact in the Los Angeles field office. Through the
lobby, the agent passes by the black-and-white photographs on
the wall of the faces of dozens of FBI agents killed in action. In
the office proper, there is a plaque presented in a tearful cere-
mony by the parents of little Samantha Runnion, who was kid-
napped and murdered despite the sleepless efforts of the FBI
agents who led the investigation. Inside the desks and filing cabi-
nets are the crime scene photos of other innocent victims of all
ages and from all walks of life.
In addition to these graphic reminders of the nature of their
work, there is the unrelenting stress. How would you like to
bear the primary responsibility for preventing a weapons of mass
destruction attack on an American city, or the next murder of
an elusive serial killer, or a drug shipment that can ruin the lives
of hundreds after its dispersal? In fact, most of the FBI’s investi-
gations are a race against time. The term ‘‘drop-dead deadline’’
has literal meaning for agents chasing down an anonymous bio-
terrorist threat or trying to narrow in on the location of a sadistic
kidnapper. In the midst of these kinds of investigations, sleep is
hard to come by, nutrition is a running joke, healthy exercise is
an impossibility, and the joys of family life are put on hold. Even
victory, when it comes, can be short-lived when criminals occa-
sionally walk freely out of the courtroom on a technicality or
when scores of masked volunteers clamor to take the place of a
captured terrorist. And sometimes, sad to say, there is a lack of
public support, as expressed in cynical media coverage and even
in congressional legislative proposals that would make the FBI’s
job even more difficult.
Why, then, are so many FBI agents fundamentally cheerful
professionals who love their jobs?

Get From the Bureau to the Boardroom: 30 Management Lessons from the FBI now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.