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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Columbia University students
Leadership students

Columbia University students

The graduate students contributing here are members of "Leadership Development" at course at Teacher's College, Columbia University, taught by On Leadership panelist Todd Henshaw.

Long-term thinking

Q: This week's nuclear summit presents one of those difficult leadership challenge: focusing attention and resources on a low-probability problem that would be disastrous if it occurred. Global warming, 100-year floods, financial meltdowns are other examples. How can a leader fight the natural tendency among followers to put off dealing with what seem like such abstract and complicated threats?

Focusing on future, abstract issues instead of the immediate ones? That sounds a lot like the definition of maturity - at least according to rabbi and author Joshua Loth Liebman. People with a less-developed sense of maturity want to deal with immediate issues that have tangible, immediate payoffs. Everyone with an addiction or a bad habit essentially trades off smart long-term goals for immediate payoffs every time they give in to that habit.

Yet we all have some bad habits. One solution is to clearly spell out the payoffs of dealing with bigger issues rather than ignoring them. Good leaders should help us understand the trade-offs associated with each choice, and the ultimate gain of making the mature decision. -- Yehonatan Schwarzmer

Daring moves

Looking back through history, we see daring moves by leaders, like Abraham Lincoln granting slaves their freedom, and it seems that leaders sometimes attack issues regardless of support from followers. If a leader constantly waited for everyone to be on board, nothing would ever get done. Leader's don't need to necessarily head the attack on global warming, but they need to find followers who have the passion and skills to move forward on an issue like that. In that way, the leader provides autonomy and support for followers.

It's also key to realize a lost cause when you see one. As the war in Iraq drags on, for example, fewer and fewer people are buying into the purpose of being there. A leader needs to know when to redirect focus or put a hold on larger issues. Making decisions is one of the most difficult things any individual can do, and adding on global pressures doesn't make it any easier. But leaders have to keep us moving forward. Remaining static is not going to solve anything. -- Tanya Roth

A responsibility to protect

As shown by a proliferation of global tragedies, choosing to ignore seemingly abstract and complicated threats has not stopped them from happening. Across the world, we have seen leaders avoid discussion of pertinent issues and threats only to be devastated by their outcomes when the unlikely occurs.

Even though such low-probability crises are untypical, leaders must still be prepared - and committed - to bringing the security of their followers to the forefront of their agenda. Despite not experiencing the exigencies of an imminent threat, leaders must treat such low-probability scenarios as constant potential crisis that can be anticipated and managed.

We are all too familiar with the tales of heroic leadership that must rise from the ashes of ruin and despair. Rather than waiting for these phoenix-like leaders to emerge, we should instead encourage the leaders of today to discuss that which is unspeakable and unlikely for tomorrow. Only through careful planning and consideration can our leaders become capable of guiding us through such unlikely yet devastating events. -- Neaka Lynn Balloge

By Columbia University students

 |  April 13, 2010; 5:59 AM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Mr. Schwarzmer's point is a valid one. We can't ignore an issue simply because we won't see the results today.if the only time to solve a problem is now, it's today's issue, not tomorrow's. Well put!

Posted by: Tuvman | April 13, 2010 5:56 PM
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