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Katherine Tyler Scott
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Katherine Tyler Scott

Katherine Tyler Scott is Managing Partner of Ki ThoughtBridge, a leadership consultancy, and is author, most recently, of Transforming Leadership: The Episcopal Church of the 21st Century. She is a board member of the International Leadership Association.

High-risk status quo

In response to the On Leadership question: On the issue of gays in the military: Under what conditions should leaders change their minds? How do you assess McCain and Powell's leadership on this issue?

Of course leaders change their minds--at least the good ones do. It is high-risk behavior for a leader to do so in this politically divisive culture, but anyone who follows the leader who can't or won't change their mind is at higher risk. "Staying the course" without revisiting issues when the facts or the context changes, is dangerous behavior. We have seen the catastrophic results of doing this in the last decade.

No leader has infallible judgment or can make a decision that will last for eternity--they make the best choice possible given the information and circumstances at the time. However responsible decision-making means they will consider the changing context, all of the facts and what they mean, the espoused and operational values and the tension between them, long-held beliefs that may need to be challenged; and honor the basic moral imperative "to first do no harm."

Given the context, the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy was viewed as the best decision the leader could make at that time. Having lived with it, we now know the effect it has had on the military and on those who serve in it. To ask anyone to deny who they are at their core is corrosive. It perpetuates deception and destroys the capacity to trust. Trust is essential to the effective functioning of any group or organization If we want honorable leadership, we can't place leaders in the double bind of pretending they don't know the truth. While it is very reasonable to have certain standards for military service, those standards need to be universally applied; they should be explicit and be about performance, character and results.

If a leader has a change of heart or change of mind about a policy they have an obligation to inform us of the basis of the change. Instead of pitting people against each other who differ on this issue, we need to find out how and why they arrive at their decisions. The more we can create hospitable space for expressing differences, for respectful listening, and ongoing learning, the better and stronger we will be as a country.

Those of us following must expect responsible decision-making. If leaders haven't engaged in such a process then we will be able to determine if they are principled people with the courage to honor tested convictions or political opportunists with a greatly diminished capacity to do the right thing.

By Katherine Tyler Scott

 |  February 5, 2010; 10:40 AM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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