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Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)
Scholar/Administrator

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.

Washington-Style Leadership

I often wonder how much "leadership" transpires in the White House. I picture every decision staffed and vetted with a multitude of advisers, presenting every possible aspect of an issue. Washington has its own brand of leadership, to be sure.

The leadership lessons from the Gate-Crowley include:

1. When in a leadership position, one must understand the impact of an intervention. Intervening as a leader often results in unintended impact, i.e., elevating an issue to a level of importance not required for resolution.

Obama's emotional reaction to the arrest of Dr. Gates escalated the minor incident to the national spotlight. In his position as president, he must understand that his words and actions can shine a laser on an issue that might be better left for the citizens in Cambridge to resolve.

2. Never miss an opportunity to bring people to the table. Especially when misunderstandings exist, leaders nudge reluctant negotiators or communicators toward reconciliation and mutual understanding.

The White House scored a major win when Gates and Crowley joined the president and VP for a few moments of clarity and open communication. Although it was turned into a photo op, the basic premise of the meeting was to have two people meet who come from different circles, and who would not normally share a conversation.

3. When you make a mistake as a leader, don't be afraid to admit it. Fessing up to our misjudgments or reactions makes us human, and therefore worthy of follower's trust. A leader who never admits mistakes might be viewed with suspicion, especially by followers who are close enough to know better.

Obama stepped up to the plate, admitted that he should have been more careful when speaking from the White House about issues better left to the citizens of Cambridge (see #1). He has consistently admitted his stumblings and emotional reactions. When we hear these admissions, Obama earns credibility, the leader's currency.

By Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

 |  August 4, 2009; 10:37 AM ET
Category:  Making mistakes Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Clearly, Obama's reaction was due to past experience.

His emotion, added Fuel to the bad Air already present. I don't believe it will leave any impact on his administration.

Though not responsible for the event, his ability to defuse an explosive situation was evident.

I would rate it a 2, on a scale of 1-10, on his abilities at bringing order to the situation.

Posted by: James210 | August 7, 2009 7:53 AM
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Generals are born, not made. If we could make Generals we wouldn't have lower ranks and everybody could be a General. Everybody could own General Motors and we could build a new organization which would be all structure and no substance and lose billions of dollars on the bargain and throw away national security. Let's trade security for a car payment and we can drive up and down the highway looking at the countryside in between billboards. We can impeach logic and drink Drano too. My clunker keeps rumbling and the next thing you know you are low on oil. The solution: Pour battery acid into the engine and get $4,500 and a blown engine. Maybe we can sink our Naval fleet and buy all new ships from China too. Morons.

Posted by: Dermitt | August 6, 2009 10:22 AM
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