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Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert, a public-interest attorney and journalist, is the Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College, an interdisciplinary center devoted to the theory and practice of women's leadership.

Sharp words for despicable conduct

Q: Israel's deadly attack on Turkish activists now confronts President Obama with a classic challenge for all sorts of leaders: How do you behave when a close friend and ally misbehaves?

Mark Twain wrote his autobiography, "Whenever I have diverged from custom and principle and uttered a truth, the rule has been that the hearer hadn't strength of mind enough to believe it." I fear that may be the reaction should the United States and other allies criticize Israel for its deadly attack on Turkish activists. Yet the U.S. and
courageous leaders of all stripes must stay true to their values and let their friends know when they do not condone outrageous behavior.

I'm not advocating for self-righteousness. We all know the eternally smug critics who always think they are right and, in the pursuit of "honesty" and "friendship," share their view of your transgressions at every opportunity.

Nor do I naively believe that honestly criticizing your allies will bring about any change in their activities. They too often have elaborate justifications for their actions that prevent them from acknowledging their shortcomings or changing their behavior.

But saying nothing in the face of despicable conduct is a tacit acceptance of a friend's behavior and speaks volumes about your own cowardice. A spineless leader is not really a leader at all.

By Kathryn Kolbert

 |  June 2, 2010; 8:27 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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