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West Point Cadets
West Point cadets and instructors

West Point Cadets

A group of 13 cadets and four instructors from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point take on the weekly 'On Leadership' questions. Who better to explore the gray areas of leadership than members of The Long Gray Line?

You better be right

Q: When Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a new immigration law making illegal residence a state offense in addition to a federal offense, she cited a lack of federal leadership on the issue. If you perceive upper-level leaders to be ineffective, when is it right to take bold action?

In my profession, if my superiors are ineffective, action to compensate is a necessity. If "bold" means illegal or immoral, then I don't think there's ever a right time for those actions. If bold means placing yourself in harm's way, physically or professionally, to do the morally right thing, then I suggest "selfless" or "courageous" are more appropriate adjectives.

I have been blessed in that I have rarely experienced situations when I believed my superiors were ineffective. In instances where I did, simply approaching my superiors in a professional manner met with excellent results. In most cases, my leaders were able to share information or perspectives with me that I had failed to consider.

In one particular situation early in my career, I took a "bold" -- one could argue "disloyal" -- approach, where I went around my chain of command to stand up for one of my high-performing subordinates who had made a mistake in violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. In the end, I learned my approach was wrong even though my heart was in the right place. I received one of those "Lieutenant, great initiative, terrible execution" speeches from my commander, that I have since given to a few of my own subordinates.

In my experience, military leaders are not very forgiving in instances of disobedience or disloyalty, and here are my tips if you are considering a "bold action" of your own:

1) You better be right. Do the homework and make sure there's not information of which you are simply unaware or subjective information that has been skewed.

2) It better be important. Be prepared to take the beating that may come even if you are technically in the right.

3) It better be selfless. If you're doing it for yourself, then it's probably for the wrong reasons and you've got a hard fight to justify that you're right or that it's the right thing for the organization.

4) Do it professionally. If it's the right thing, important, and selfless, then there's no reason to be sneaky or deceitful about it. Make your intent clear, even to the people you think are ineffective. -- Major Donnie LaGrange

Just like 'Sugar' Shane Mosley

The question you have to ask yourself is this: What would happen if you never challenged or questioned upper-level leadership that is ineffective? The upper-level leadership would continue to be ineffective. Furthermore, there would be no individual progress or growth, which accumulates into a lack of organizational progress as well. If leaders at the lower level were too intimidated to respectfully question the leadership decisions of upper-level leadership and take some form of action, it would be difficult to develop as a leader and organization.

Like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, legendary boxer "Sugar" Shane Mosley has taken bold action when upper-level leaders appear to fail. With the much-anticipated boxing fight coming up between Mosley and Floyd "Money" Mayweather Jr., there has been a lot of talk about Mosley's decision to relieve his father as his manager and trainer.

His father was not making the right decisions based on Shane's interests, causing Shane to question his father's motives as his trainer. Although Shane's decision to relieve his father was not easy, it was necessary in order to move to achieve his goals. So, Shane made a bold move hire Naazim Richardson as his new trainer. Sometimes you have to question, challenge and take a "bold action" with your upper-level leadership in order to continue to progress as an individual or organization. -- Cadet Dario Marcelli

Escaping stagnation

It is often said that the states are the laboratory of democracy. Fifty different governments try different, often bold, policies and maneuvers. Many of them fail. And when they do it is very easy to criticize deviating from the status quo as a mistake. But without new and bold ideas, the organization as a whole -- in this case, the United States -- is doomed to stagnate. When policies are successful, they provide a positive model for others to follow.

At risk of sounding naïve, I believe that lower-level leaders should do whatever he or she believes will improve the organization. Even knowing that many times those leaders will make mistakes. Because despite the risks of reckless decisions, the consequences of timidity and meekness are far more certain and grave. -- Cadet Avi Bakshani

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

By West Point Cadets

 |  April 29, 2010; 2:21 PM ET
Category:  Public policy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The natural disposition of most people...almost superhuman abilities...The press of the country clothed General Lee with such qualities. He was mortal and then there is bold print. It's not your eyes, it is a fine print conspiracy. The plastic vision failed. 50 states of paper can't fail. There are always new bills and old papers. Looks bad for the euro. This is bold drama. In reality the clock has been turned back. The losses keep mounting. I guess it depends on execution. Don't quibble over methods.

Posted by: tossnokia | May 2, 2010 9:18 AM
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As recently exemplified by the shooting case at Fort Hood Texas, it is clear that the rigid "chain of command" culture and the corresponding unwillingness of officers to take risks to put forth unpopular or contrary opinions is rampant in the military. Many co-workers and superiors of the Fort Hood shooter were well aware of his deficiencies, yet he was promoted and pushed along. I think the miliary needs to take a long, long, long hard look at it's own culture before prescribing leadership recipies for the rest of the world.

Posted by: kschur1 | April 29, 2010 4:47 PM
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