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Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)
Military leader

Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)

A retired U.S. Army General, Montgomery Meigs has commanded U.S. and NATO forces overseas and is now President and CEO of Business Executives for National Security.

Taking "exit" out of the strategy

Developing leaders in any setting involves changing values and habits -- never an easy task. Nurturing leadership and a sense of selfless service in individuals who have grown up and survived in a society as traumatized as Afghanistan's creates an even greater challenge, but one that can be met.

In a society like Afghanistan's, survival of self, family, and tribe dominate individual behavior. In any group of Afghanis seeking leadership status in national institutions, a large proportion will have great difficulty subordinating tribal and family ties to national interests. A good number can be reached, however, with the goal of helping to create a better society for all, for their tribe and family as well as others.

Opening and sustaining the existential exchange of values on which leader development depends takes great patience and sensitivity. Either because of a mistake or a misunderstanding, the leader guiding the development process often finds himself at cross-purposes with his counterpart. In these frustrating situations, skill in using humor appropriate to the other culture, an ability to address an issue from a new perspective, and a knack for refocusing emotion can pay huge dividends. To provide mentors with these skills, the military must improve the selection process and the cross-cultural training that prepares line Soldiers and Marines for this kind of work.

In developing a leader from another culture, one must also meet his partner on his own ground. That practice involves far more than sipping tea or providing a new well for the town. It means sharing hardship and literally participating in the uncertainties and dangers the counterpart fears most. On the mentor's side, this depends on language competence and cultural affinity. It means overlooking, in the short-term, habits one may find odious.

A national police captain may be "on the take" from kiosks in the market -- but may also be aggressively attacking terrorist networks and criminal organizations. Saving for later the argument about petty corruption today may be necessary for progress on the wider range of issues tomorrow. Developing leaders also means showing by example the behaviors and values one wants to instill. Regardless of culture, individuals accept teachers who appreciate the dilemmas they face and who stand with them when they are at risk.

Adhering to several basic rules also helps to keep this exchange alive:

Don't ask too much of a counterpart. Sooner or later he must go home. If in the eyes of the tribe or family, he has brought dishonor on or created an unacceptable inconvenience for them, his life and that of his family are at risk.

Never pass judgment. Keep the game going. Persuade, demonstrate by example, encourage, but never generate a level of emotion that suggests dishonor or loss of face.

Never make a promise in the heat of the moment. When a promise is made, always deliver.

Be consistent. If one stands for certain values and behaviors, one must live by them in the eyes of one's counterpart. In General Stan McChrystal's words, "perceptions derive from actions."

Finally, to support the Soldiers and Marines who perform this dangerous, painstaking task, we must understand that no political accommodation or compromise, no acceptance of new values and loyalties is possible without the development of a safe and secure environment in the village and town. We must provide the boots on the ground to make that movement toward a secure environment a reality in Afghan society. We must also take "exit" out of our declaratory strategy. Who will risk their survival and that of their family in siding with an outsider who promises much but whose intent is clearly to leave on his schedule?

The military are very good at developing leaders. But civilian experts from our own government are best suited to do the work of leadership development in the ministries of agriculture, education, justice, interior, and finance. To date the Congress and two administrations have not created the authorities to ensure our own government's civilians can be employed on long tours in this mission in harm's way.

Getting the right civilians into Afghani ministries and regional governments must become an essential part of our new strategy for improving the Afghans' ability to govern themselves. The military can build the Army and National Police. But only senior civilian officials with the proper credentials and training can build the national and regional institutions that provide the vehicle for political compromise and the services to localities upon which a stable society depends.

By Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)

 |  December 1, 2009; 12:07 PM ET
Category:  Wartime Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

Before expecting Afghan leaders to rise to the surface it's necessary to raise the literacy rate above 10%. It will take a 70% literacy rate before active local government produces leaders capable of leading the country. This will take 3-4 generations, is the U.S. prepared to stay involved for 80 years?
We should also ask, does Afghanistan have the GDP to support a government, national or local police force, an Army? Does the U.S. need to teach them how to collect taxes?

Posted by: knjincvc | December 3, 2009 10:23 AM
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