Osama, Obama, The USA and a parable of leadership


THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

Everything I’ve written here on this blog is encapsulated in the news we heard over this past weekend – and the intent of this post is to draw on the parallels, the parables of what we as leaders can learn from this historic moment.

First – I want to set the context as the key imperatives of Leadership from a followership perspective – a leader MUST establish:

  1. Who is in charge
  2. What are the rules
  3. The rules will be applied fairly and consistently

1) The US, and latterly President Obama took the moral high ground for themselves in declaring a philosophical constant that they were taking a stand against terrorism and the killing of innocents

We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda — an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies

2) The rules were pretty clear – if you declare war on the US and the philosophy and moral position of the US you become the target. al Qaeda and it’s leadership wherever in the World they may be became the target and the defeat of al Qaeda is the declared aim and no expense will be spared to achieve it. That’s a huge and serious commitment, as the President acknowledges

After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.

3) The rules can be observed to be consistently and fairly applied – Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, are all removed from action based on their breaking the rules of being committed to the demise of the USA and it’s philosophy. Note that ‘fairly applied’ is relative to the application and contributes to the consistency and is not necessarily and observation of the fairness per se of the rule! Action along this lines against Muammar Gaddafi is fair and consistent against the rules – there is correspondingly less consistent attention being paid to other despots and war mongers which detracts from the overall execution against principal 3) – but this makes my case.

The greatest risks of leadership are also present and demonstrated

  1. no matter, your message will be misunderstood and misrepresented by cynics to manipulate the majority of the “uncommitted”
  2. what you want, always costs more than you are prepared to pay
  3. You can’t ask for patience and someone’s vote

1) no matter what you do, your message will be misunderstood and misrepresented by cynics to manipulate the majority of the “uncommitted”. The War on Terror is pervasively represented as a war on Islam – no matter the lengths that are gone to to counter this – it is still the common perception. Note the hostility and genuine anger to a Mosque at ground zero as evidence that it is close to impossible for many good people to tease apart the two.

2) What you want always costs more than you are prepared to pay – evidenced in the loss of life to date of course, but striking to me is the executive decision to kill bin Laden rather than take him alive. Many would argue that the better Public Relations course of action would be to have taken him alive – but a decision was taken that will sit on that leaders conscience to take a choice of action. You may not see it coming, but I can assure you a relatively tough choice will face you as you execute your vision.

3) It took 10 years, and two US Presidents to see this through – the eventual defeat of al Qaeda may take a generation yet and the overall struggle could be seen in biblical timescales. Doing what is right won’t win as many votes as doing what is right now – never mind.

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So you want to be a leader? Stop being a drone!


We’ve all become slaves to a work style that encourages us to be drones. Don’t believe me? go look at your ‘Sent Items’ in you email client and roughly estimate how much of your output in the past week are ‘replies to’ as opposed to original thought, created content on your part. Satisfied?

If you are like me, the first time you pay attention to this, you will be shocked to see that you spend most of your intellectual capital as a router, reactively responding to stimulus. This is not the way of the leader.

Here are some simple habits that can help –but they all demand that you build a self awareness that allows you to define what makes the bar for your reply. If the bar is not met – then move on! resist the itch to pitch in with your say too. Instead, focus on original thought and content creation – ADD VALUE!

For reference, here is the filter I try to apply:

1) Impact? will I have an impact in replying… if I am only contributing, don’t bother, I have more valuable things to do.
2) Passion? is this a subject I have authentic passion for? if not, get out of the way for the people that do.
3) Learning? Will I learn something if I question? (If i already know the answer… or don’t care much about the answer…. move on)

it is hard, but when I get to under 60% in a week, I know it was a good week for me.

Also helps me build a consistent profile – authenticity and predictability about who you are and what you care about.

Drone = An idle person who lives off others
American Heritage Dictionary

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