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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from wanting change to getting change


Full disclosure: I strongly prefer revolution to evolution. Generally speaking, events roll slower than I would like and with less drama than I would prefer. Perhaps because of this I have developed

  1. the veneer of patience
  2. effective strategies for getting change implemented.

sidebar: I do believe that evolution is the natural state of the world, that left to itself, situations evolve. The revolutionary can have an impact as a force for change that occurs more radically, fundamentally or profoundly; which is something I can’t help but be drawn to

I’ve had many conversations with colleagues who are nervous, anxious about change, even change they deeply desire but seem unable to embrace or execute. Of course, part of the problem here is that we all call for change, can think of things we wish were different but the catch comes when that change requires we change ourselves! Barak Obama famously won election to President of the USA on a “Change” ticket – and is feeling the full backlash of an expectation that stuff would therefore change, but is almost wholly unable to influence individuals to change their own behaviours.

  • Know what you want (answer this question: “What do I want?”)
  • Invest in self awareness so that you can make yourself available to what really matters to you and that you can model the change you want
  • Build followership and alliances that support and energise your change

Let’s start then with wanting change – look around you 360 degrees and boil to one theme that captures what you want to change. I’ll use something by way of example that I hope resonates; as I look around me, I want to change the level of trust that colleagues have in one another to move from ‘functional’ to ‘high’

I’ll assume you have a good baseline or metric to determine the current state – I have internal poll data that I would use.

Now for getting that change implemented, Go First! in no other aspect of the leaders practise is it so important to lead from the front and model the behaviour you desire in others yourself. In the example I have used, trust is about being predictable and reliable (see separate posting on Trust)

Make yourself available to the situations you take most energy from as a default. In the example I used here, building trust means investing in situations that have trust as a defining theme or issue and diving in to really expose difficult issues and address resistance or head-in-the-sand avoidance head on.

Don’t be shy – talk about what you want often and with passion, make clear your vulnerability. Keep your eyes and ears open, as you speak and write about trust you should spot where you can build alliances with engaged colleagues around you. Enlist! Enthuse! Energise!

References:

[The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team]

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Bruce Patton

Permalink: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/014027782X

@Yodaism: “If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are, a different game you should play.”

The bottom line on effect change is to know what it is you want to change which requires some degree of self awareness, following that go – start now!

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