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Yash Gupta
Business School Dean

Yash Gupta

Yash Gupta is Professor and Dean of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Time for Plain Talk

After nearly eight years of war, our political and military leaders still haven't done a good job of articulating our goals for Afghanistan. It simply isn't enough to say, "We want to eliminate al-Qaeda." That's too abstract, like saying we're going to get rid of evil. What exactly would that mean, in concrete terms?

That's where leadership comes in. The president and his top military people need to clearly explain the purpose, the goal, and the ways we would gauge success and failure on our way to that goal. In this case, as always, good communication is one of the most crucial ingredients of successful leadership.

The change in command in Afghanistan from General McKiernan to General McChrystal demonstrates that it's the prerogative of a new president to install his own team. However, with that presidential prerogative comes the overarching responsibility to define the goals and the strategies of the administration. And when there are setbacks, the president needs to explain those as well -- how they happened and what the next course of action will be.

The U.S. president, of course, has a bully pulpit like no other, but that needn't preclude other top officials from contributing to the message. It wouldn't be a bad idea for President Obama to have some of his top military people communicate with the general public on occasion, not in strict military terms but in plain language that would help everyone grasp the mission's essential elements.

We can't have a repeat of the mistakes made in Vietnam and Iraq, when our leaders were unable or unwilling to fully explain why we got in and how we would get out, resulting in a public mood of confusion and anger. Leaders have to keep people informed, not keep them guessing. While it's true that President Obama inherited this war, he has failed to take advantage of the opportunity to redefine the mission in a way that might help the public better understand why U.S. troops are being placed in harm's way in Afghanistan.

By Yash Gupta

 |  August 25, 2009; 11:06 AM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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