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Col. Charles D. Allen
Military scholar

Col. Charles D. Allen

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the Professor of Cultural Science in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College.

Correcting the course

Question: In taking control of the House this week, Republicans have committed themselves to investigating and repealing all of the major initiatives taken by the Democratic president and Congress over the past two years. How much should the new leaders of any organization focus on undoing the past as opposed to charting a more affirmative course for the future?

The key questions may be: "What have the incoming leaders of an organization determined to be their charter?" And, "Why were they hired, and what is their vision for the organization?" These are familiar questions posed in business and corporate settings, where boards of directors appoint CEOs to lead. The same questions are appropriate for members of the department of defense, where the military appoints officers to command units and headquarters.

In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins provided a useful framework for new leaders transitioning in organizational settings. One of the first things leaders should do is diagnose the situation. Watkins uses the business context of a new start-up, turnaround, realignment or sustaining success. The same categories can be applied to public leaders, whether elected government officials or commissioned military officers.

Watkins offered that some organizations "have significant strengths, but also serious weaknesses on what you can and cannot do." Challenges abound when the mission is to turn around an organization that stakeholders perceive to be in trouble and that requires major efforts to get it back on track. For realignment, the need is to correct the course of an organization that is adrift.

Both turnarounds and realignments require an understanding of the existing strengths and weaknesses of the organization in question, paired with a clear vision of what should be done. Visions help leaders and enterprises sustain relevancy in changing environments, which may require redirecting or reversing past organizational decisions.

What if Steve Jobs and Apple stayed the course with a 1976 vision? Recognizing and seizing opportunities, the vision changed from "An Apple on every desk" to "Make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind." This mindset led to the now-ubiquitous iTunes, iPods, iPhones and iPads.

With the past two U.S. elections of 2008 and 2010, incoming presidential and congressional leaders, elected by the people, have assessed the situation of our nation. Now the elected officers are pursuing their respective visions, which in several cases result in attempts to reverse some decisions by previous leaders. That is the nature and the beauty of our constitutional system.

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By Col. Charles D. Allen

 |  January 5, 2011; 11:09 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Corporate leadership , Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: In the blame game, no one wins | Next: The dramatic decline in civility


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"Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one."


Posted by: BonAmi1 | January 9, 2011 11:37 AM
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If you are driving and suddenly notice you will drive off a cliff on the present course, do you maintain the course and speed? Wouldn't you at least stop and rethink your course? Would changing your course be a repeal?

If there are questionable issues then we need to stop and rethink the program. By many accounts we are headed to a cliff, and by possibly as many we are not. It's time to stop and at least look at the map.

Posted by: jbeeler | January 9, 2011 11:34 AM
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This congress was elected to reject the horror of Obamacare and repeal it - anything short of a total repeal will mean that this congress is a FAILURE.

Posted by: Capitalist-1 | January 8, 2011 5:02 PM
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To simply "undo" without putting forth a better alternative is the very negation of leadership. What army would survive if its only strategy was to run home the way it came? Oh wait, that's cowardice, not leadrship.

Posted by: BurfordHolly | January 8, 2011 11:25 AM
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This essay is simply a statement of pure hot air in a utopican world. It addresses no known need. The right wing in the USA is dedicated only to helping those with money to get more, not lowering the infant morality rate of helping us live longer, more productive lives. This essay is simply a cover story for that agenda.

Posted by: funfun881 | January 8, 2011 9:45 AM
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The good Colonel presupposes that democracy is a clean and honest business of selecting leaders of vision, high education, courage and integrity (and all those other good things). Now, what do politicians do these days when they present themselves for election? Simplify to sound bites both in allegedly expressing their views (seldom wholly the truth, if even near it) and another set of sound bites to attack their opponents. Do they really care for the greater good of America? Not much evidence of that lately. And, how well informed are the electorates in each District and State truly are? They get most of their "facts" from sound bites in TV news, maybe longer reports in print and the Internet. Do they try to learn beyond what newscasters and commentators present in their newscasts and columns? Charitably, very unlikely.

As it has evolved, democracy as practiced now is contested in the baseline of the lowest common denominator. Hardly the basis for good and reasoned course corrections. As the pendulum swings from one side of the aisle to the other, with seemingly greater amplitude to the right at the moment, the failure to lead with vision in pursuit of incremental progress towards getting things done is starkly apparent.

At this rate, the frown on Lady Liberty's face should be expected to grow all the more.

Quo Vadis, America??

Posted by: johnsingkit | January 8, 2011 5:32 AM
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I have to agree with another commenter on this page that this commentary is another reason why our political system is regressive and fails to address our pressing concerns which are jobs and getting our economy restarted. Falling into the specious and popular argument that it is always right against left instead right against wrong. I can't find another term other than stupidity because a stupid man is someone who knows right from wrong but plays the game because it is setup that way. Therefore, this man's stupidity and adherence to right wing ideology makes me disregard is argument.

We do not need to repeal but to reinvent, move forward and be progressive. Let's save our nation instead of playing political games because we know the motives of the players is to score political points in 2012. If this is the cause then we are doomed to fail. Instead, our elected politicians (currently they are not leaders) need to be progressive and once again make this nation a shining beacon.

Posted by: Olurun | January 7, 2011 9:46 PM
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I admit to reading this commentrary because the author looked African American and the tone seemed conservative. I wanted to see how someone with the experience of a racial minority in America might address the topic in a conservative way.

My assumptions were off base. It does appear he is African American but nothing in his comments confirm that. In addition, he is deep inside the most post racial insititution in the nation. As a result, his comment seem disinterested in racial mindfulness.

In addition, his conservative prespective seems also a mirage. He does seem to take a corporate/business perspective layered with a coating of classic management theory. This is not very interesting. For example, several contemporary managment theories inject more interesting premises--Steven Covey famously says: "Begin With the End In Mind." Applying this to Republican crys to repeal health care legislation could have produced an anyalsis of whether they do have a clearly formed "end." At the moment, it seems that Republicans don't have that and addressing this flaw in their leadership would have been interesting.

So, at the close of his commentatary, he simply asserts a statment that sheds little light but suggests an unsubstantiated view that both sides are culpable.

The fact is that seldom are arguments equally right or wrong. Each side is ultimately on one side or the other. A good commentator will discern the weight of opposing arguments and highlight the superior one. That was not done in this case. Doing so should be the aim of all your commentators.

Posted by: edarden4u | January 7, 2011 8:19 PM
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I think we should repeal the Iraq War and the repeal of Glass-Steagall. That's some reactionary politics we could believe in.

Posted by: David_PA | January 7, 2011 6:36 PM
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I think we should repeal the Iraq War and the repeal of Glass-Steagall. That's some reactionary politics we could believe in.

Posted by: David_PA | January 7, 2011 6:27 PM
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So many words to not offer an answer. This seems to be Colonel Allen's mode in the "On Leadership" answers he has offered. Here, he offers someone else's boilerplate model of categorizing types of new leadership, provides no insight as to why this categorization might be useful to this particular question, offers a random example of Apple having changed its goal (or at least slogan) in the last thirty-four years (which no discussion of the principles or conditions upon which that change was made or how it is relevant to the case under discussion), and ends with a bromide about the "nature and beauty of our constitutional system without, in fact, saying anything more than that people get elected and then pursue their goals.

Leaders should certainly have the capacity to make arguments that are persuasive and relevant to the questions being ask--or provide a substantive reason why the question being asked is the wrong one, while redirected our attention to what she or he sees as a more relevant question. Colonel Allen seems to consistently fail at this cornerstone of leadership.

Posted by: daviestad | January 7, 2011 5:30 PM
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Yes, let's spend all our time undoing what others did in the past. Next time Democrats take over (and it will happen) we can undo what the republicans did. You sir, are why we are failing as a nation.

Posted by: mjcc1987 | January 7, 2011 5:17 PM
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