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Howard Gardner
Scholar

Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero.

Put yourself in another's spit-shined shoes

Q: Bob Woodward's new book on the Obama White House portrays a president so frustrated with top military advisers for their refusal to provide what he considered a reasonable exit strategy from Afghanistan that he devised one himself. How should leaders reconcile the laudable instinct to rely on the advice of experts with the sometimes urgent need to force them to think outside the box?

Surrounded by his deans and top advisers, a president of Harvard once began a meeting by asking a question, then indicating how he expected each person to answer the question, and then asking whether anyone had anything new or different to add. Of course, this strategy entails a certain amount of audacity, trust and knowledge on the part of the leader. Still, a key to effective leadership is for the leader to be able to put himself in the shoes of each of his lieutenants, and for the lieutenants, in turn, to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the leader. If senior military officers were unable to understand what President Obama was requesting, or if the officers were unable even to provide a reasonable exit scenario, then he was certainly right--if not obligated!--to make an attempt himself. One hopes that this was a learning opportunity for all--if not, the Washington scene is even less flexible than I'd thought.

By Howard Gardner

 |  September 27, 2010; 2:57 PM ET
Category:  Education leadership , Government leadership , Making mistakes , Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Don't just defer to experts | Next: When political realities trump good advice

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This is really good analytic advice for everyone. It's tougher to extend it to working on arguments against your own ideas, but this is one of the easier ways to break down barriers of miscommunication. Moving to asking not just either/or but how is not always easy. However arguing against your own ideas can produce better ones, or more precise ones that will work. Avoiding the fallacy of binary reductionism is pretty critical, so I try to think of it as juggling, and ask myself where is the third ball.

Posted by: Nymous | September 29, 2010 5:25 AM
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