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Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Todd Henshaw is currently the director of executive leadership programs at Wharton. Previously, he directed the leadership program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

TSA--and politicians--need to make more unpopular decisions

Question: It's now obvious that Homeland Security officials misjudged the public reaction to new airport security measures. What should leaders do when confronted with widespread backlash against a decision they still believe to be sound and in which they have invested considerable money and reputation? Should the TSA try to weather the storm or plot a strategic retreat?

The key elements within this issue are trust and responsibility. It is the responsibility of the TSA to protect us, period. TSA leaders must be prepared to make unpopular decisions regarding our safety. Our sensitivities and complaints matter, but in this case leadership means doing something unpopular to keep us safe and fulfilling the responsibilities associated with TSA's mission. It's time to deal with the fallout of this tough decision, but not an opportunity to retreat just because some citizens can't fathom giving up some of their privacy for security.

Making unpopular decisions to lead effectively is something that has become all too rare in our country, especially within our political institutions. Politicians are failing to act in a responsible manner by neglecting tough decisions requiring courage and choosing the harder right for the country as a whole. Congress should lead by focusing on what is right for our country rather than what we want. After all, we elected them to make tough decisions, not guarantee their own re-election.

Leaders can survive making unpopular decisions as long as they have earned the requisite trust--as long as constituents believe that decisions are made with their best interests in mind. This creates a difficult situation for politicians currently serving and for the TSA, as each of these entities has failed to earn the trust of the public in the execution of their responsibilities.

By Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

 |  November 22, 2010; 7:15 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Crisis leadership , Failures , Making mistakes , Managing Crises Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Let's end terrorism hysteria | Next: Close encounters of the unpleasant kind


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You are absolutely right. If the TSA truly believes that what is being done is necessary, we need to stay the course. The TSA and the administration, however, can benefit from better educating the public and stronger complaint management. As this piece points out (http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-recovery/managing-customer-complaints), better complaint management might improve service.

Posted by: Julie-Ann1 | November 24, 2010 9:14 PM
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Your points about leadership may be valid, but off point of the discussion. But truly your post is a very bad advertisement for Wharton!! I'll be sure and warn my students away from there!

Posted by: dolphinim2 | November 24, 2010 6:33 PM
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Col. I am not willing to give up my right to be free from an unreasonable search because I want to move freely about the country.

Question: I am sure you are reading these comments. Do you have the courage to address the responses to your writing or will you ignore the complaints of law abiding Americans like the TSA does?

Posted by: bdc9977 | November 24, 2010 2:24 PM
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Another person more intelligent than you, Mr Henshaw, a man by the name of Thomas Jefferson, said the following: "Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty."

It might be uncomfortable for us to enforce the 4th Amendment, but that's the price we pay for being FREE. For now, I'm exercising my freedom not to fly until the TSA ends these intrusive searches (BOTH pat downs AND x-ray porno scans).

Posted by: linguist64 | November 24, 2010 10:20 AM
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Mr. Henshaw, read the 4th amendment. It's short, simple and easily understood. It says that the government is required to have probable cause before it searches its citizens. You were sworn to uphold the constitution, as I was when I became an Army officer many years ago. Purchasing a ticket to fly in an airplane does not constitute probable cause. So look me in the eye and tell me that you truly believe this TSA policy squares with that document.

Posted by: velox | November 24, 2010 4:08 AM
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Perhaps a more difficult decision would be to require everybody to live where no liberties exist and pay 100% taxes.

I understand that leadership sometimes requires making decisions against the grain and require the backbone of leaders. However, just because a decision is against the grain doesn't mean it was a good decision or the right decision.

This decision is about more than just safety, it also is about constitutional rights. Perhaps your constitutional right to illegal search isn't that important to you right now (or when you board an airplane); however, the problem with our legal system is that it relies on precedent. Therefore, when a right is eroded in one circumstance it has a way of spilling over into other circumstances where the application of that law is more novel. While it may seem trivial to give up the right to illegal search for the benefit of traveling on an airplane (as many do without compunction) doing so also establishes a legal precedent that should have never been. Legal precedents need to be challenged to see if they meet the constitutional criteria.

Posted by: theartistpoet | November 24, 2010 1:17 AM
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Unfortunately, the good colonel apparently does not understand that civilians have higher expectations of personal liberty than the lock-step robots in the military. His philosophy basically equates to "in order to save the patient, we have to kill him first." Brilliant. I'm sure that is exactly what our Founding Fathers were shooting for when they wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Posted by: bkllal6020 | November 23, 2010 4:09 PM
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But what has TSA done to earn that trust?
In fact, they have done MUCH to lose our trust. I agree that your military background might make a difference. I have no trust in TSA to appropriately conduct themselves and I have absolutely zero confidence that they would be able to prevent a terrorist.

Do you think they could? Really? I want the guards and dogs back. That's when I felt safe.

Now I feel abused and annoyed and fearful.

Posted by: hebe1 | November 23, 2010 3:40 PM
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With all due respect for your service to our country, Col. Henshaw, I think you are confusing civilian life with military. It is not the duty of civilians to sheepishly go wherever their leaders tell them to. In a free society, leaders govern with the consent of the governed. Messy, but that's the way it is.

On a more practical note, you say, "It is the responsibility of the TSA to protect us, period." You do not know that the woman next to you on a plane does not have a plastic bag full of high explosive in her vagina, nor will you ever know. Unless you are willing to let TSA subject your daughter, your wife, or your mother to a gynecological exam as a condition for boarding a flight, please acknowledge that there are other social values than security to be considered here.

Posted by: GordonCash | November 23, 2010 3:08 PM
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A person more intelligent than you will ever be once said;

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Posted by: powellmachine | November 23, 2010 9:19 AM
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