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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?

Acceptable vs unacceptable failures

Question: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week confronted a dilemma faced by many leaders: whether to step aside when things go wrong. What should be the criteria guiding such a decision? Did Pelosi make the right choice? Should she have offered to resign but let her caucus make the decision? What about Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid?

I have never held a job where things haven't gone wrong! This topic reminds me of one of my most favorite leadership tenets: failure tolerance. There are certain types and levels of failure a leader can learn from. Failure from incompetence is intolerable, but mistakes will certainly be made. The discernment between acceptable and unacceptable levels of failure lies in the values you proclaim and live by. At West Point, we focus on becoming leaders of character. If your personal values are aligned with those of your organization, you will know how much and what type of failure is too much. If you hold true to your values and have the courage to accept responsibility for your actions, you'll know when you need to step aside. At the end of the day, we must act in the best interest of our own character, our organization and those whom we serve. -Cadet Christina Tamayo

When is it a leader's duty to step aside? I offer three fundamental questions leaders should consider.

First, am I leading the organization in the right direction? If a fresh perspective or tactic is suitable within the values and goals a leader has established for the organization, then a leader probably doesn't need to step aside. But if a leader "can't get there from here" within their established vision and goals, then a leader's duty is to step aside. In any case the values, vision and philosophy of both the leader and the organization must be congruent.

Second, do I have what it takes to right the ship? If leaders don't have the capacity to learn and improve, then they have a duty to step aside. Learning from your mistakes, publicly, takes confidence and courage. Quitting doesn't take either.

Finally, are my personal shortcomings so severe that my reputation will impede the organization's ability to move forward? There may be situations where a leader has all the tools for self improvement and their values, vision and philosophy are congruent with those of the organization, yet they personally become a distraction to progress. In this case a selfless leader will step aside, which takes courage too. -MAJ Donnie LaGrange

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

 |  November 9, 2010; 2:41 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Failures , Government leadership , Leadership development , Leadership weaknesses , Making mistakes , Military Leadership , Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Major LaGrange makes valid points with his questions. The difference being someone who wants to improve and lead in a new direction or someone who is entrenched in their way of thinking and behaving. I will submit Ms. Pelosi has not wavered much since her first seating.

When people see little change, little new light, and continuing with the same mantra that drove off the road, they realize she cannot answer those questions of herself and get answers that satisfy their beliefs.

If people do not see a change, they will make a change. I think that's where Ms. Pelosi finds herself now. She has not changed or wavered in the past, she cannot prove herself not as the leader of a lame-duck house, and the people are not willing to wait.

Posted by: jbeeler | November 10, 2010 8:00 AM
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