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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.

Afghanistan's West Point

Last year, I spent several months in Afghanistan as part of a military team tasked with assisting the Afghan Army in designing and establishing the National Military Academy of Afghanistan in Kabul. My particular role was to work with my Afghan counterpart to establish
the Leadership and Management Department, develop its curriculum, and hire and develop its professors.

This mission, while clearly the more rewarding of many military assignments, was also more difficult, and when I arrived, the most hopeless. The most challenging part of the task was to find qualified faculty to teach the cadets in the management field. Most of the graduate-educated faculty had departed Afghanistan when the Taliban seized control, and others had fled decades earlier when the Soviets controlled the government.

What I did find in Afghanistan were civilians and military officers who were already invested in developing leaders for the government ministries and for the military.

Dr. Maria Beebe, for example, was running a two-year graduate program in public administration out of a powerless building at Kabul University. The program included a three-month internship abroad to see how other governments operated. Maria was also running a program to elevate and develop Afghan women to positions in the government. She should be graduating her first class this year.

Hadi Rakin was running leadership programs for Afghan engineers through the Society of Afghan Engineers. Hadi is an expatriate who now lives in Virginia, but spends months in Afghanistan developing engineering potential and public service leadership. The projects that Hadi's students supervise are visible and important, focusing on key services like clean water and power generation.

I also found leader development in progress at the brand new Afghanistan Civil Service Institute. They were just initiating programs to bring officials from outlying areas together to network and to learn about ethical government together. They intended to chip away at tribal differences, and to unify through education.

Finally, the very premise of the National Military Academy, like West Point, was to create future leaders who truly represent the country. Cadets are enrolled from every part of Afghanistan, from every ethnic group, rich and poor, barely literate and multilingual. The National Military Academy has been developing leaders for its military for four years, having graduated its first class this year.

Of course the Academy is struggling: There are never enough resources, and they are just learning how to develop ethical leaders who support their constitution. The faculty literally risk their lives to come to work every day, but they believe in their mission, and the potential impact they can make.

Leader development is not a simple issue of training, and we won't be finished in 18 months. This is a generational issue. As the new generation of leadership emerges in Afghanistan, we will see an evolution in values and effectiveness there. Progress will be painfully slow, and we must be patient. And with this new leadership, we will see renewed optimism, and a greater sense of national unity. If we are committed to this as a global community, it will happen.

I remember a quote a the bottom of Maria Beebe's email. It said "Drop by drop, we make a river." Many people are in Afghanistan now, already making small contributions that over time, will develop leadership for Afghanistan.

By Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

 |  December 3, 2009; 2:34 AM ET
Category:  Wartime Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Thank you for illuminating some of the development work being done in Afghanistan. Glad to hear we are building institutions there. Now with our "civilian surge", I hope we will put more resources behind this effort.

I wish we had paid more attention to this country back in 1989 after we helped destroy it, but better late than never.

Posted by: MarkLai2 | December 3, 2009 10:30 AM
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Kill the stinking yanks
and CRUSH u.s. imperialism !!!!!!

The Soviets couldn't conquer
and neither can the murderous
u.s. !!!!!!!!!

Posted by: flyersout | December 3, 2009 8:52 AM
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