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Ballard book favors positive, forceful leadership style

November 19, 2007

Students complained about Greg Ballard when he taught college business courses. The man they called "the Colonel" had strict rules and high expectations. Frustrated, undergraduates sometimes tried to go over his head.

His boss, Indiana Business College administrator Marc Konesco, encountered them in his office. But students never got far. Konesco refused to overrule the Colonel's decisions.

"I always said, 'That's his classroom,'" recalled Konesco, the college's vice president of marketing and enrollment. "His style was one where the students didn't necessarily like him through the class. But when they got done, they always had so much respect for him. And his evaluations were through the charts."

Ballard taught from a book on management he self-published in 2005: "The Ballard Rules: Small Unit Leadership."

It's a slender paperback, with 71 pages. But the principles it embraces, and the hard-line approach Ballard used in his classes, speak volumes about how the former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps is likely to lead the city of Indianapolis.

Expect a hierarchal approach. The Republican, who was the surprise winner of this month's mayoral election, clearly expects the buck to stop at his desk.

"People want to be led," he wrote in "The Ballard Rules." "They may say they want to do their own thing or that they hate their boss, but the truth is they want to be led by men and women of integrity and competence who possess a positive, forceful leadership style. Never forget this."

"The Ballard Rules" draws heavily on Ballard's 23 years in the Marine Corps. After retiring in 2001, he served as North American operations manager for the health care firm Bayer in Indianapolis.

He then moved on to teach. Ballard wrote the book to use as a private consultant and corporate coach for new middle managers.

"The Ballard Rules" is no military field manual. It leans on the theories of management gurus he admires from other spheres-such as Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, and Robert Greenleaf, the Terre Haute native who founded the servant leadership movement.

Interest in the book picked up considerably after Ballard pulled off his long-shot victory over incumbent Mayor Bart Peterson. These days, it's difficult to find a copy.

"I know the book's a hard ticket in Indianapolis right now," Ballard, 52, laughed.

University of Indianapolis business professor Matt Will is among the few who have read it.

He said Ballard's book is similar to other management tomes by former Marines, with comparable strengths and weaknesses.

For example, "The Ballard Rules" repeatedly emphasizes the need for subordinates to adjust to their superiors when they clash.

"If you disagree on substantive material versus just style, meet with the senior leader and discuss it," Ballard wrote. "If, after hearing the rationale, you still disagree, it is your responsibility to carry out the senior leader's wishes as if you completely agreed with his position."

Career bureaucrats may not respond to Ballard's authoritarian, goal-oriented ideas, Will said.

"He's used to having a team of people who are trained to be followers. In the Marines, a good leader is partly a good leader because people have been to basic training. They're trained to be followers," said Will, associate dean of the university's business school.

"That is not necessarily the case with a government employee who has been there before you arrived and will be there after you depart. They're not vested necessarily in your success."

Similarly, Ballard might have trouble when he faces political resistance from other branches of government, Will said.

He'll have the benefit of working with a Republican-controlled City-County Council led by another military veteran, Bob Cockrum. But the mayor's power is limited. Other municipal taxing units, such as libraries, schools and township offices, may resist Ballard's top-down approach.

Still, Ballard might be more flexible than some observers expect.

His book praises the management theories of Greenleaf, who worked for AT&T from 1926 until 1964, when he retired and began researching effective management.

The Westfield-based Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership still espouses his ideas, which emphasize focus on the customer.

Kent Keith, the Greenleaf Center's CEO, has met Ballard only once and hasn't read his book. But Keith believes Ballard can succeed by appealing to bureaucrats' best instincts.

"People who work in government often work there because they like the idea of public service. For many people, that's a personal mission. It's a calling. It's meaningful work, noble work," Keith said. "Most people come to work every day wanting to make a difference."

Ballard said he isn't expecting much bureaucratic resistance. He noted that this won't be the first time he's inherited a team whose members were mostly picked before he arrived.

"In the Marine Corps, you get people assigned to you that you didn't ask for. You get people and they're who you got," he said.

"I don't think people are necessarily motivated to do their work on a political basis. There's a job to do, and I expect people to do their jobs. I don't care if they're Democratic, Republican or whatever. Most people will do a good job."

"The Ballard Rules" encourages managers to listen respectfully to a variety of viewpoints, which suggests Ballard will be open-minded about new ideas.

Yet Ballard encourages debate only to a point. His view of finial accountability couldn't be more clear.

"Two people cannot be in charge," he wrote. "There is only one head coach, only one president, only one Pope. Even when equivalent employees get together to decide something, it is really their senior leader who approves or disapproves the group decision."

Based on his book, Will expects Ballard to have a narrow focus on a handful of priorities. He'll try to do a few things well, such as reorganization of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, rather than a great many poorly.

"He'll probably break some eggs while making this omelet," Will said. "But he'll probably make the omelet ultimately."

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