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Ed O'Malley

Ed O'Malley

A former state legislator and gubernatorial aide, Ed O’Malley is President and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center, a first-of-its-kind training center charged with fostering large-scale civic leadership for healthier communities. He tweets at eomalley.

Not just sheikhs and generals

Capturing the Taliban will prove easier than nurturing leadership. We know how to wage war and President Obama's additional 30,000 troops will make that easier, but more troops alone can only do so much to make progress on the deep, daunting challenges such as corruption, lack of support for centralized government, and lack of opportunity for many citizens. Achieving peace and transformational change for Afghanistan is complicated and will require tremendous leadership throughout the Afghani population.

A close friend, leadership author David Chrislip, when asked if leadership can be taught, replied, "No, but I am darn sure it can be learned. The job of those wanting to nurture leadership in others is to create an environment for that learning to take place."

Leadership is not like accounting or history. You can't teach it to someone, but rather you must help create an experience that allows them to discover and learn for themselves. There are not technical solutions for becoming better at leadership. It requires a different way of being for most people.

What does this mean for Afghanistan? The aspiration of the U.S. and NATO intervention is for widespread changes to take place in Afghanistan. Those changes will require tremendous leadership from the Afghani people. And, while leadership can't be taught, here are a few things (also applicable to anyone wanting to foster leadership in others) U.S. forces should consider when nurturing leadership among Afghanis:

Don't just focus on the traditional authority figures
- the military and government. Deep, daunting societal issues cannot be solved by government and/or the military alone. For progress to occur, an expanded culture of leadership must become pervasive throughout Afghanistan. U.S. efforts should also focus on building the leadership capacity of citizens, especially women and other unusual voices in Afghani civic life.

Use a different definition of leadership. Don't connect leadership with authority, which confuses things and gets messy. Instead, define leadership as the activity of mobilizing people to accomplish daunting tasks. What that activity looks like in America versus Afghanistan may be different but the definition holds.

Ground the activity of leadership in their culture not ours. Rely on the Afghani people to define the activities necessary to mobilize people. Here is a simple strategy that has been used with many communities, cities and populations. My assumption is the process would work in Afghanistan too. Ask Afghanis of all types - military, government, citizens, rich, poor, young old, women and men - the following questions:

What concerns you the most in your community?

What are the barriers to more progress on those concerns?

What type of leadership is necessary to overcome those barriers and make progress?

Listen closely, study their answers and powerful ideas about leadership in their cultural context will emerge. Let their words, thoughts and ideas guide what type of leadership is fostered.

By Ed O'Malley

 |  December 2, 2009; 10:59 AM ET
Category:  Wartime Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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