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The superstar skill Joel Klein most lacked: management

Why is Mayor Bloomberg so confident that Hearst executive Cathleen Black will make a great chancellor? Maybe because her “superstar” management skills are exactly what Joel Klein most desperately lacked.

In a new piece for Capital New York, our own Anna Phillips describes how Klein’s big ideas suffered from a “confused system of accountability” in his own staff. The confusion worsened after the departure of his longtime aide Kristen Kane, who served informally as Tweed Courthouse’s “chief manager.”

“No one was paying enough attention to how ideas, once conceived and adopted, were executed,” Anna writes. She adds:

As one former Department of Education official put it, “In terms of delegating properly, ensuring everyone has clearly accountability lines, and it all kind of synthesizes at the top … He just doesn’t do that.”

Klein’s weakness became clear when top school officials disagreed with each other.

When there were internal turf wars and power struggles-which there were, often between his top advisers as they competed for attention and funding for their pet projects-he didn’t intervene. “He hated conflict,” said a former official. “When he became aware there was infighting, he might have a cabinet meeting to tell people to shut the fuck up, we have this one goal and if you’re not on board, leave. That was his idea of managing.”

Rather than a kind of Klein lite — also from the business world, but more smiley — Black may be more like Klein’s opposite, Anna’s sources suggest. She can execute, she just doesn’t yet have the ideas.

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