Duty: The Leadership Question

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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ revelations in Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, has served as cannon-fodder for what passes for intelligent political debate in our country.

While I am just now getting into the book, it appears to be a most articulate and considered analysis of how people in leadership make decisions affecting the lives of brave young men and women thrown into battle. While some may see Gates’ pointed commentary as an opportunity to skewer a political opponent, one should be far more interested in what the memoir says about leadership.

In the case of President Obama, former Secretary Gates goes to great lengths to insist that the President made all the “right decisions” (at least from his perspective), but that the President didn’t seem to “buy into the mission” which is critical for a Commander-in-Chief sending men and women into battle.

Paraphrasing what I believe Secretary Gates is saying:  “It  is simply not enough to make the ‘right’ decision, a ‘real’ leader fully embraces that decision and conveys a sense of determination and decisiveness that resonates with those he has been mandated to lead.” Churchill springs to mind, regardless of his many faults and errors in judgement.

I suspect that most military officers would support Gate’s position on the importance of demonstrating leadership when the lives of our citizens are put at risk.   Indeed, one could argue that Gates’ recipe for “owning the mission” is a necessary characteristic for all  leaders.  Sadly, the instructional value of Gates’ memoirs for future leaders will be largely lost on the current generation of politicians who prefer to lead based on the ever-shifting winds of public opinion.

With the War in Afghanistan now entering into its 12th year, the leadership and conviction that sustains and inspires deployed military troops are more important than ever.   Hopefully, President Obama and those in Congress can demonstrate leadership far more pro-actively than they have in the past and – equally importantly – send a message to those who have served so valiantly that they will not be forgotten.

Unfortunately, today’s brand of leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will continue to respond with the same stale and vitriolic political rhetoric that trivializes “real” leadership and personal integrity.    Thank you Secretary Gates for doing your Duty!


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