In the summer of 2006, the basement of the Internal Revenue Service building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., was flooded under 18 feet of water.
“Being an old building, all of the mechanicals are in the basement, so the building was completely shut down,” said Michael Parker, director of the Legal Processing Division of the Chief Counsel of the IRS.
The closure presented a big problem for Parker and his staff, whose primary mission is to prepare Tax Court documents for IRS attorneys. “The Tax Court was not affected by the flood and they could have cared less that we were affected,” Parker said. “And also, [the documents] go out through the almost 50 field offices that handle Tax Court litigation, where we have to get to. They weren’t affected, so we had to ensure that we could set up quickly and continue processing these documents.”
In her nomination of Parker for a Top Leader award, LaNita Van Dyke, chief of the Chief Counsel’s Publications & Regulations Branch, wrote:
“Upon being informed of available office space in an office building located about one mile from the main building, [Parker] immediately gathered his managers and began the challenging task of quickly establishing operations in the new location. To further complicate this daunting task was that IRS building had no electrical power and the LPD offices were located on the fifth floor, thus adding to the difficulty of moving files, supplies, and equipment needed for processing the documents. Mr. Parker was able to assume responsibility of a computer training room and a conference room. He quickly assessed what needed to be accomplished in order to establish a working office and delegated responsibilities among the managers.”
Within three days, Parker had his makeshift office up and running, with his staff eliminating a two-day backlog in the process of getting caught up.
“The Tax Court documents were processed timely with no adverse effect,” Van Dyke wrote. “During the six-week period in this makeshift office, more than 15,000 Tax Court documents were processed timely. This entire process of relocating the office occurred two more times within a four-month period. Once to another temporary building and then back to our permanent office facilities. Through his leadership and his internal drive to not fail, he ensured that each time the office was, again, quickly established with no adverse effect on operations.”
Parker credits his staff for his success. In turn, he sees his role as a leader being all about helping them to be successful.
“The most important thing is you’ve got to take care of the people that you have responsibility for and that comes in a variety of ways. From ensuring they have the resources to do their jobs, to helping them to resolve any issues that they may have, to ensuring that they understand the vision of the organization and what’s expected of them to make sure we’re successful,” he said.
Parker: Be a good listener; don’t be afraid to make mistakes or for subordinates to make mistakes; have a passion for people, help them grow and succeed in their profession; be willing to take chances; be proactive, recognize and resolve small problems before they become big problems; ensure subordinates have the resources and support to perform their jobs; outwardly display loyalty and support to subordinates and superiors; hold people responsible for their actions; and personally accept responsibility for failures and share responsibility for successes.
What is your leadership philosophy?
Parker: My leadership philosophy is based on caring for those you are responsible for, which usually breeds success. I follow the tried and true method of management-by-walking-around. This is not to try and micromanage, but to give me an opportunity to interact with the staff on a more personal basis, and not just business. I attempt to learn a little something about each person, be it how many children they have, what’s the name of their pets, where did they go on vacation, is there anything I can do to make their life at work better, etc. I have found that this method makes the staff more comfortable around me and are more willing to identify issues that may be affecting their work environment. Also, individuals are less timid to make recommendations on how to make things better. Unless it’s an idea that obviously is not doable, I’m generally acceptable to try their ideas, with the understanding that if it doesn’t work out we can go back to the old method. Lastly, I let the staff know that they will be held accountable for their performance, and will be either rewarded for outstanding performance or appropriately dealt with for poor performance.
Who inspired you as a leader when you were younger?
Parker: While in the Army, there were two officers that, to this day, I try to emulate. The first was Chief Warrant Officer B.J. Schreiber, a legal administrator I worked for while assigned to Staff Judge Advocate’s Office, Fort Gordon, Ga. I learned from Mr. Schreiber that there is never any problem too big to resolve and to accept all challenges with a smile. No matter what the issue that was presented to him, his first response was never “no, it can’t be done.” He always responded with “let me see what I can do” and seldom was he not able to resolve an issue. And, if he couldn’t, he generally recommended an alternative solution.
The second is Capt. Clifford Rock, who I worked for while assigned to a unit in Athens, Greece. Capt. Rock, a West Point graduate, epitomized what a military officer should be, the type of leader you would easily follow into combat without a second thought. Though he was as tough as they come, he was not afraid to show that he deeply cared for those under his command. He was someone you didn’t want to disappoint because doing so would be devastating to me. This is where I learned that a leader’s first responsibility had to be taking care of subordinates, regardless of the cost.
Who do you admire as a good leader now? Why?
Parker: Unfortunately, I feel there are not many good leaders which deserve my admiration today. But to have to pick one today, I go with Hillary Clinton. As any good leader should do, she accepted full responsibility for the failure of her agency even though it seems clear the failure was with her subordinate leaders and not her.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to improve their leadership skills?
Don’t be afraid to make decisions or to fail, but ensure you have significant information before making decisions.
Ensure your subordinates know you are there to provide the support needed for them to succeed, give them a pat on the back for doing good and a kick in the pants when doing badly.
Ensure your leaders know when your staff is doing well; but, be careful when letting them know when there are issues with your staff.
Don’t procrastinate in dealing with problems because problems generally just don’t go away but become bigger by ignoring them.
Treat everyone fairly, but not necessarily the same; remember that people have different situations and respond differently to events.
Allow your staff to grow professionally, even if it means losing good people to another office.
Lastly, don’t be a micromanager. This is one way to quickly demoralize a staff. They were hired to do a job, let them do it.
What’s the most challenging part of being a leader?
Parker: For me, it’s been having to deal with a very non-supportive boss. But, in general it’s recognizing that people are different and to adapt your leadership style accordingly.
What is the most rewarding part of being a leader?
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, 6 a.m.-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere.
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