On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Todd Henshaw, a professor at Columbia University, is Academic Director of Wharton Executive Education. Previously, he directed the leadership program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Unspoken Rules

"Formers" should offer advice, in private, when asked. Anything else can only be viewed as meddling or legacy management.

After 20 months of command of an artillery unit in Hawaii, I "passed the guidon" to a new commander on a crisp, sunny morning. My follow-on assignment was to serve on the division staff, a new, seemingly inconsequential position. Command is probably the ultimate job in the military, as your life becomes intertwined with your troops, you live and train together, go through trials and tribulations together.

A few weeks after the change of command, I remember the being drawn back to the unit. I wanted to visit the men, retell the stories of the glory we had achieved together. If only I could visit for a few minutes, to say hello and let them know that I was thinking of them.

But the military has a tradition. Once you leave command, you must create space for the leadership of the follow-on commander. If one doesn't respect this tradition, a potential risk is that there's confusion regarding loyalty and authority. I've witnessed several commanders who have not respected this unspoken rule, and they were gently pushed away over time. It's a sad story...a departed commander who can't let go to allow others to assume the role.

Former Vice President Cheney should learn from generations of military officers who understand that once you leave command, you serve as a silent advisor, only providing input when it's requested from the new leader. Your legacy must rest on its own merits, and the lens of history.

By Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

 |  May 12, 2009; 10:11 AM ET
Category:  Followership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Organizations Over Individuals | Next: Carter's Example


Please report offensive comments below.

Is it a case of the kettle calling the pot black. Both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were among the loudest voices heard in criticism of Bush. Not, to even mention Al Gores rantings, and, now, you expect Cheney to sit by while this adminisrtation slanders him. Not going to happen, and power to him.

Posted by: phines1 | May 13, 2009 5:11 PM
Report Offensive Comment

I was just a lowly combat infantryman, but at Ft. Benning our NCOs taught us that regardless of what the Nazis, VC, or Japs did.....America did not stoop to the level of those who torture.. to protect our POWS, & to warn animals who did use torture, that after America smashed the aggressors, they faced the harshest punishment of the American/Geneva Conventions for those who committed barbaric acts.
Dick Cheney would have learned this had he served in the military. Its pathetic that he has been allowed to pass himself off as a tough guy via association. And....as any man knows... every town...every army has mad- dogs that at some point must be put down. Fear is the excuse of all cowards.

Posted by: mikepiedmont | May 13, 2009 1:13 PM
Report Offensive Comment

You must be kidding. After all the trashing of former Vice President Cheney and the Bush Administration (and the former President) by both the current administration and the mainstream media, it is about time somebody spoke up. You have confused the national political debate with military protocol.
- former Marine commander

Posted by: bahnbp1 | May 13, 2009 9:13 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Pulleeeze. As a 21 year veteran I reject your disingenuous malarkey. Come back when you can show proof where you have equally told Carter, Gore and Clinton to shut up.

Thank god I didn't serve under any idiots like you. Battalion command does NOT translate to national political dialogue.

For you to attempt to link the two shows you are a mental midget. If this represents West Point - we're screwed.

In fact, aren't you military officers supposed to sit down, shut up, and remain politically neutral? Seems to me you are not neutral. Are you representing the views of West Point and the military in general?

Until you show equal condemnation of Democrat politicians who left office and have not shut their yaps, shut your own yap about telling others to be quiet.

Posted by: Democrat_Culture_of_Corruption | May 13, 2009 7:53 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Dick Cheney is no leader, he is a war criminal.

Posted by: lcarter0311 | May 13, 2009 12:04 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Thank you, Lt. Col. Henshaw, for this clear and reasonable assessment of a military leader's duty. It is an honorable tradition.

Perhaps Cheney's problem is that he never served in the military and wouldn't know its traditions if they hit him in the head, stuffed him into a box, poured water down his throat, and then made him stand naked for 72 hours.

Posted by: kjohnson3 | May 12, 2009 2:44 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Anyone who believes Cheney's sincerity needs his head examined. Dick is only trying to create a political climate of hesitant ambiguity because he knows that decisiveness will have him in the docket to answer for crimes against humanity.

Torture some fool enough and he'll say whatever you want him to. If there really was a planned "second wave" then let's hear all about it, including what actual steps were taken to thwart it.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | May 12, 2009 12:29 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Command of a military battalion is not the same as protection of the nation. While it may seem like a neat metaphor to pretend like it is, it is not. If Cheney with his knowledge believes that the country is at risk, then like any citizen who would step forward and be a whistleblower when it is unpopular to be one he has a responsibility to say his piece. Find some space in your lectures for individual responsiblity versus maintaining the status quo, Col.

Posted by: steven7753 | May 12, 2009 12:23 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company