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Yash Gupta
Business School Dean

Yash Gupta

Yash Gupta is Professor and Dean of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Respect your advisers

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?

One of the most important tasks of a leader is to surround himself (or herself) with people of competence, people he can trust, people who complement him. Then he needs to create an environment in which his team members feel free to express their concerns and opinions, whether they're inside or outside the box. He should make a sincere effort to weigh all these alternative views and, at the same time, ensure that his team understands that he, as leader, will make the final decision because he has been handed the responsibility (the burden, if you will) of having to do so. He's the one who has to face the music at the end of the day.

That responsibility also includes clearly explaining his thought process to his advisers if he should choose A after they were advising B. That's how he can make respect a two-way street throughout the organization. When he disagrees with their counsel, he needs to demonstrate that this doesn't necessarily mean he lacks confidence in them. The hope is that he, in turn, earns their respect and confidence.

President Obama has the difficult task of serving as a commander-in-chief without a military background, while working with career military people. He's not the first president in this position, of course. It just means he has to be extremely well prepared on military matters. He doesn't need to know nitty-gritty details so long as he shows a solid understanding at the conceptual level.

By Yash Gupta

 |  September 28, 2010; 2:26 PM ET
Category:  A leader's team , Accomplishing Goals , Government leadership , Military Leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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advisors are there to advise not dictate. the pres. is commander and chief whether he has military experience or not. the pres. gives the military an idea of what he would like to do. his advisors should tell him what's possible and what's not and why. sometimes people give to much credit to the military since many generals such as mcchrystal have no problem with lying to promote his own agenda. so the pres. has to sort it out and figure what's best for the country not just the generals.

Posted by: blinwilly | October 3, 2010 10:17 AM
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"That responsibility also includes clearly explaining his thought process to his advisers if he should choose A after they were advising B."

Have you ever heard of "commander's intent"? That's where the commander describes in plain language what he wants done. Call it the end state if you must use jargon. The language is important because clarity of communication is critical and some subordinates just don't understand intent, but do great on orders.
Lee, for instance, thought he was providing sufficient direction to Ewell when he suggested it would be good to clear the heights at Gettysburg on the first day. Ewell agreed, it would be a good thing, but didn't think it was the driving factor of operations for that day so he made a half-hearted push and then settled in for the night.
Commander's intent: by the end of combat today control the critical heights in the vicinity of Gettysburg in order to prevent the Union army from falling in on tactically advantageous terrain and prevent it from use of the road intersections to deny the enemy interior lines of communication and provide for flexible Army of NoVa future operations.

So, I wonder, what "intent" was given by the President to the body of military advisors? Also, one might bear in mind that the law has not caught up with recent changes (ie Goldwater-Nichols, et al) which make Combatant Commanders the real power houses and subordinate service chiefs to combat support providers, yet retain those same service chiefs as the legally constituted Presidential military advisors. Seems a little out of whack, no?

Posted by: observer57 | September 29, 2010 1:07 PM
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