The Afghanistan conundrum, from the beginning when we went there to kill terrorists who killed many of us to 20 years of nation-building and finally to a disastrous pullout, encourages the question about political leadership in our nation’s Capitol.
I’m afraid we have lost the idea of what leadership is all about, for there has been an emphasis on “political” and a de-emphasis on “leadership” over the past 20, even 30 years, in my opinion.
What is leadership? For many, personality and politics define leadership.
Let me assure you, principled leadership isn’t about personality. It isn’t about how many ribbons, medals and awards you have. It’s not about how successful you were in climbing the political or bureaucratic ladder. It’s not about the length of your apprenticeship or service.
My education and experiences have taught me that real leadership is about a process and a commitment to basic principles. These principles apply wherever and whenever leadership comes into play, be it a strategic setting, a tactical operation, within a public institution, or private organization.
What are the principles of leadership? Have our political leaders measured up to leadership principles in Afghanistan and elsewhere?
Principled leaders make reasoned planning, organizing, executing, and controlling decisions that affect the mission and affect those being led. More on this later, because decision-making is the most important leadership activity.
Principled leaders communicate in a manner that creates understanding among those being led and those within the chain of command. Obfuscating, deflecting and outright lying by political leaders have created confusion, misconception and mistrust.
Principled leaders motivate, inspire, encourage, even impel on occasion so that correct actions are taken by those being led. However, constant reliance on the stick and the gun by political leaders creates distrust, resentment, even outright rebellion.
Principled leaders select the most qualified persons or groups for the work required, neither selecting nor rejecting because of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or quotas. “Most qualified” shall be the sole criterion. Need I say more?
Principled leaders develop and improve the knowledge, attitudes, and skills of those being led with continuous mentoring, training, and education. Political leaders seem to indoctrinate rather than educate.
Principled leaders allow those being led to carry out the mission and receive rewards for “mission accomplished.” Political leaders micromanage for political survival and gain.
Principled leaders take full responsibility for both successful and failed missions. Principled leaders must create successes or they don’t continue as leaders for long. Political leaders make big mistakes, never take responsibility for them, and continue in office without consequences.
As previously opined, decision-making is probably the most important activity in leadership. How a leader makes decisions often determines the success or failure of the mission.
Decision-making requires a detailed process with an exception for emergencies. In emergencies, policy, protocol,and procedure (all previously made decisions) and intuition are the principled leader’s guide.
A tested and proven decision-making process called the five chapter “decision book” is as follows:
Defining the situation becomes the first chapter in the principled leader’s decision book.
The first scene in this chapter is fact finding, intelligence gathering, and surveilling.
The second scene is assessing and determining viable options.
The third scene is testing, forecasting and predicting (role playing, outcome analysis, data modeling, etc.) viable option outcomes before reaching conclusions and making final decisions.
Defining the mission becomes the second chapter in the principled leader’s decision book. This is a determination, expressed in broad general terms, about what the principled leader wishes to accomplish.
Defining the execution becomes the third chapter in the principled leader’s decision book. This is a determination, expressed with specific objectives, activities, and assignments, about those actions necessary in carrying out the mission.
Defining the administration becomes the fourth chapter in the principled leader’s decision book. This is a determination of logistics and supply objectives, activities and assignments.
And finally, defining the command scene, control scene, and communications scene becomes the fifth chapter in the principled leader’s decision book. This is a determination of command structure, control policies and communication protocols.
Key to all leadership principles is accurate and timely intelligence. Planning, organizing, executing and controlling all require reliable and timely information so that the decision book becomes a flexible tome.
Can we take personality and politics out of leadership in Washington, D.C? This is very difficult because of established social and political norms. Only when major mission failures occur will the public and political leaders hopefully turn to a more principled leadership model.
Gerald G. Doane lives in Grass Valley.