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Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)
Military leader

Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)

Colonel Mike Haith (U.S. Army, Retired) currently works for the Army at Ft. Monroe as a Human Dimension Integrator.

No Place for Intimidation

I categorically reject the notion that the leader should be feared in addition to being admired, trusted and respected. I believe they are in fact mutually exclusive. The authentic transformational leader is one who inspires subordinates. Subordinates who work for an inspirational leader see an example that they want to emulate. Fear and intimidation motivate only in the short term and organizations that promote such transactional or "toxic" leaders validate that leadership style and send a clear message that such a style is acceptable.

In his interview with Steve Pearlstein, Gen. Tony Zinni's comments on the "curse of loyalty" suggests that Colin Powell's support of the decision to invade Iraq was motivated more by loyalty rather than integrity. I am convinced that he and the Bush administration were convinced of the "clear and present danger" posed by Iraq, or he wouldn't have supported the decision. Unfortunately they and many other were wrong and Iraq proved to be costly in terms of American lives.

Military leaders are developed to understand they have an obligation to support the decision of higher commanders even when they do not agree with those decisions. They are free to express disagreements but when a decision is made they support it as if it was their own. Informing subordinates that they will execute certain tasks or missions because "the boss said so" undermines the authority of the commander. However, we equally obligated to refuse orders that are illegal or immoral and have the further obligation to prevent immoral or illegal conduct by our soldiers and allies.

Loyalty has its place as a fundamental value, but duty and honor provide counterbalancing value that serves to ensure loyalty is not blind.

By Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)

 |  August 18, 2009; 11:36 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I am oberwhelmed by the wisdom of this leadership credo. But I wonder what the retired colonel was like in uniform. My own short stint in the military suggested that all the "leaders" were afraid--of the institution, if not the commanding officer.

Posted by: axolotl | August 19, 2009 11:06 PM
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Yeah right!

Most people knew there were no WMDs in Iraq except the most intelligent people (I mean powell, not Bush)?

Posted by: davidgoldmandg | August 19, 2009 11:03 PM
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Often when a superior is shouting irrational questions and demands in an office environment out of all proportion to the task at hand, I wonder where it comes from.

Is this a person with battlefield injuries? Did their parents do this to them as children. Is there some undisclosed tragedy in their life that makes them act this way?

It manifests often these outbursts of rage at who know what.

But why?

In all the times I have witnessed this, I've never seen it to be particularly effective at accomplishing the goal at hand.

But it is more and more common in these tough economic times.

How sad.

Posted by: nospit | August 19, 2009 8:36 PM
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My father and mother were my first leadership examples. My Dad retired from the U.S. Air Force and ruled the children through fear. We obeyed him because we were afraid of him. He gave us plenty of reasons to fear him. My Mom led by example and with compassion. We never doubted that our father would hurt us. We never doubted that my mother loved us. Guess which one was the most influential in our lives? I spent 22 years in the military myself and was a platoon sergeant in Desert Storm. My soldiers didn't fear me - they respected me. Together, we went to Saudi Arabia and Iraq and accomplished our mission. I'm also a father myself, and I swore I'd raise children who weren't afraid of me. All three of my sons would say I'm a good father because I love them, not because they're afraid of me. I'm sure you'll say being a leader and being a father are not the same thing, and I'll ask, "How can you be a father without being a leader?"

Posted by: rsmith3855 | August 19, 2009 4:22 PM
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I have been amused by this "leadership" column since the inception. There is nothing here that anyone shouldn't have learned in High School, and mastered by the time they took their first "real" job.

Posted by: wcmillionairre | August 19, 2009 3:49 PM
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I think that fear is the worst motivator in any leader's bag of tricks but any real commander who disregards it, does so at his or her peril. In the US Air Force AEF construct forces from 60 different bases and units are sent to work together for 4-6 months. My personal experience later in this conflict was that some USAF units used these AEF's as a "dumping grounds" for their worst personnel. These young people show up with enormous personal problems such as rape against them (Yes!), pending court-martials (yes!), messy divorces, child custody battles. They show up often with no friends and are expected to perform 12 hour jobs every single day, no back-up and no days off. When people violate the well-defined rules as were set down by our leadership, what do you do as commander? Often these criminals, even if they had bad personal probles - were punished and sent home for immediate discharge. BL - if standards are not maintained (yes through fear of punishment for some; then chaos will reign). Should they have been handled better and not even sent into theater? Certainly, but once they come in country we had not the facilities nor manpower to deal with them. BTW - I gave weekly speeches to motivate our group of people to excel and most did a spectacular job. The vast majority were inspiring and only a very, very small percentage did poorly. But those must be dealt with to maintain good order and discipline.
As for promotion to the top ranks (O-7 and above) - the VAST majority have spent the majority of their careers in staff, teaching, HQ and school environments. The number of those who spent most of their career in "operational units" is small and shrinking. One mistake over 30 years in the operational theater ends your career. The staffers now fill the top jobs - look at any general in most services and you'll find most of their life was spent behind a desk. Those in the staff positions have few risks and end up thinking up theories such as this one above : "good leaders don't use fear". Theories that don't meet the test of the real world that we live in. It's the staff officers who have lived in their bubble worlds of risk-aversion that almost lost the Iraq War. My last tour in 2007 had over 32 general officers in Baghdad. Those Generals guarding their future while taking as few risks as possible. A few of us motivated well and took huge risks to help turn this war around.

Posted by: afghaniraqkuwaitkoreavet | August 19, 2009 3:03 PM
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Perhaps I missed the word..but, "respect" is a vital component to leadership...in the military nd in civilian life...if the people around you do not respect you...regardless of how one does business...ones tenure would be shortlived.

The phrase..."don't do as I say..but do as I do" or leadership by example will always be the foundation for leadership in the military.

Posted by: LTC-11A | August 19, 2009 2:47 PM
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why can't I click somewhere to email this to others -- like most other wp article pages?


Posted by: andfurthermore1 | August 19, 2009 2:30 PM
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Duty, honor, and loyalty are all nice shiny words that the German Wehrmacht leadership used to justify their blind obedience to Hitler. Having the fortitude to question and challenge authority is much more coragous than a soldier's blind obedience to follow orders.


And it is also extremely wise to listen closely to the questions being asked of those authority. They give strong clues to the mental state: stability, intelligence, and intent of the person(s) doing the asking. Some can be taken seriously and perhaps even considered by those in authority. Some can be attempted to be answered because the individual(s) are obviously uninformed or going off of misinformation. Some are just the ravings of lunatics highly prone to paranoia and xenophobia and should be avoided. And some are from folks as dangerous to society as the KKK and Hitler were and pose a threat to national security.

Posted by: anla1974 | August 19, 2009 1:51 PM
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The problem I have with using fear--well I don't think good leaders have to and strong minds won't follow them if they do, but a big problem with fear is that people acting out of fear are doing just that. They are "acting out." They are not organized or using intelligence in a way that brings about lasting, positive solutions to problems. No, through fear people are throwing whatever they perceive as the quick fix on the problem to allay their fears and ultimately that quick fix may make for more trouble that it in turn takes more to clean up both physically and mentally.

Posted by: anla1974 | August 19, 2009 1:43 PM
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You need not make guys tremble in your presecce with fear.Instead you can spread fear nicely and scare them into letting you do whatever you want to do.Obama has done it to get billions and billions for his economic rescue packages.The Republicans have done it to demonize his health care proposal.And the global warmers are doing it saying climate change is also a national security hazard.

Posted by: cibikay | August 19, 2009 1:15 PM
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I believe that great leaders use whatever strategy is best for any given situation or time. There's no reason why fear can't occaisionally be one of those tactics, but any leader who relies on one basic strategy, whether it's wholesale fear or a love-fest, will be limited in his/her effectiveness. The good ones know what to do, when to do it, and how to get it done.

Posted by: clfrdj | August 19, 2009 1:00 PM
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Fear makes men go against their better judgments for fear of reprisals. I have had the opportunity to lead men, both inside and outside the military, and I, for one, never trusted the comments of someone who feared me. Too many peoples lives were in the balance.

Posted by: Marrone | August 19, 2009 12:23 PM
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the content here was short, with no real description of how to be a transformational leader. Plus, the writing was so poor that there were several sentences that plain didn't make sense. It's as if this article/post was written as an email.

Posted by: Blurred | August 19, 2009 10:08 AM
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HassanAliAl-Hadoodi - as former Army Brat and Army Officer - I can assure you there's more to making General than your leadership abilities. To make General, you have to sacrifice a lot for your career, and the most common sacrifice is family. Between 0-5 and 0-6 - a lot of good men (and women) get out because they value marriages or children more than the Army. That's the finest form of leadership in my opinion.

Posted by: mwcob | August 19, 2009 8:59 AM
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I think many people confuse "fear" with "respect." "Fear" means you are fear reprisal from your leader for mistakes. "Respect" means you are fear disappointing you leader with mistakes. Leading means going in front and bringing people with you. The manager who uses fear pushes them from behind. There's a reason the front axle on a vehicle turns, not the rear one.

Posted by: mwcob | August 19, 2009 8:56 AM
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This is the oath of enlistment I took 30 years ago...

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

I meant it when I said it, every word. General Powell took a similar oath as Secretary of State, and he fulfilled it to the best of his ability. When he could no longer in good conscience fulfill his oath of office he stepped down. That is what men of honor do.

Posted by: torp74 | August 19, 2009 8:28 AM
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Fear is a great motivator. The insurance industry uses it everyday to play on people'e emotions. General Patton from my understanding was not real warm and fuzzy. The greatest coaches throughout sports were not ones to mince their words, or sit their players, let alone even trade them. The stock market manipulators use fear to drive the trading psychology and is called the volatility index.

One of the great motivators that any man or woman hs heard as they were small children, "Just wait till your Dad gets home". Need I say more?

General Powell did what any man in his position would have done based on the IMMEDIATE information he had available. Gen. Powell is an honorable man with integrity but he has even seen the light. We have all been convinced there are only cetain logical steps we should make based on a trust or belief in a system or a person. We have stopped relying on our instincts and have adopted the herd mentality.

Until we can retrace our lives back to a point in our life where conviction, integrity and belief are the mantra of our decisions; than we would not need a motivator or someone to grind on us. It would be second nature and we would invariably adopt a like mindset with little explanation and/or inflammatory debate.

Posted by: jakesfriend1 | August 19, 2009 7:28 AM
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For sure, could this be why Col. Haith didn't make general?

Posted by: HassanAliAl-Hadoodi | August 19, 2009 6:52 AM
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Duty, honor, and loyalty are all nice shiny words that the German Wehrmacht leadership used to justify their blind obedience to Hitler. Having the fortitude to question and challenge authority is much more coragous than a soldier's blind obedience to follow orders.

Posted by: kschur1 | August 19, 2009 6:48 AM
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Mike Haith

I totally agree with you, the leader should inspire rather than resort to fear and intimidation.
But are there exceptions to the rule?
My uncle was a long time assistant football coach in college(25 years)and with the Redskins (15 Years) once told me when I asked why Lombardi was successful--- "fear"
and that seems to be a major reason behind the success of Bill Parcells.
What's your opinion?

Posted by: Tom57 | August 19, 2009 2:41 AM
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Thank you Col. Haith for your wise words on the costs of toxic leaders and the benefits of leadership that is inspirational rather than leadership based on fear. I encourage folks to pick up Jean Lipman-Blumen's book, "The Allure of Toxic Leaders," which has many positive ideas for making the workplace and society a less toxic place. As well as explicating the costs and consequences-- political and social-- of maintaining a system that is toxic to an organization's and society's health.

Ultimately, toxic leadership is inimical to democracy and toxic to citizens' and employees' health, ability to contribute, and psychological well-being. It also empowers bullies and socio-paths, even when those who go along to get along, or have a misplaced loyalty to hierarchical authority, like General Powell, are neither bullies or socio-paths themselves.

Posted by: Jeff-for-progress | August 19, 2009 2:40 AM
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"Powell's support of the decision to invade Iraq was motivated more by loyalty rather than integrity". He chose to serve Bush rather than his country. What's a shame!

Posted by: K30a | August 19, 2009 12:21 AM
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