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Col. Charles D. Allen
Military scholar

Col. Charles D. Allen

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the Professor of Cultural Science in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College.

Hope for the future

Q: A cloud of volcanic ash grounds European airlines and the chief executives of KLM and British Airways join their crews on test flights to show that it is safe to fly. What do these actions say about the importance of symbolic involvement by top leaders in responding to crises?

We look to leaders to provide us with a sense of purpose and direction in the course of day-to-day organizational life. In many cases, however, we may not perceive senior leaders having a direct effect on us. Our satisfaction and productivity may be more a function of our relationships with front-line leaders and peers, who provide the motivation and support we need to accomplish daily tasks.

But senior leaders seem more important during a crisis, when the relevancy of an organization is in question or when evidence suggests an organization is not adhering to its underlying values and principles. When crisis is at hand, communication from senior leaders is essential for those both inside and outside the organization.

Over the past decade, there have been several such challenges and crises faced by our military. Our senior military leaders have been questioned on the relevancy and strategic competence in the operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Other crises arose with the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib and the care of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and Generals David Petraeus and Stan McChrystal have sought to address the crisis in confidence by not only talking to the civilian leadership and Congress, but also to the service members engaged in combat operations.

During times of crisis especially, we expect senior leaders to lead by example, to explain what is happening, to tell us the truth, to move the organization forward, and to resolve the crisis. Leaders have the obligation to re-affirm our purpose and direction and to give us hope for the future.

By Col. Charles D. Allen

 |  April 20, 2010; 3:51 PM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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