Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Is prestige that important?

Today, October 6, 2009, Mr John Howard, past Prime Minister of Australia, is reported as telling the media that Australia must commit more troops to the war in Afghanistan. His rationale is that this is to avoid handing victory to the Taliban, a scenario he says would deal an "enormous blow" to American prestige.

Mr Howard is totally entitled to his views. I suspect that here, as he has done on many occasions in the past, he is reflecting what significant numbers of people feel in Australia, the USA, and in other parts of the western world.

Mr Howard may or may not be right. The war in Afghanistan may or may not be winnable. That is an argument for another time and place. [Although, as an aside, pulling out of Vietnam some 30 years ago turned out to not have any adverse impact on the USA’s prestige in the medium to long term.]

What is pertinent, however, is the underlying belief that prestige is more important than anything else.

Many leaders continue with approaches far beyond their “use by” date because they are unable to admit they made a mistake. This happens in parents’ dealings with children; with teachers’ dealings with students; with managers’ dealings with reports’; with executives and organisational strategies; with governments and their programs, etc. As long as this continues, re-creation of the leader and his or her organisation is impossible – and the seeds for ultimate demise are sown.

As I said in Leaders: diamonds or cubic zirconia one mark of a good leader is the ability and willingness to put doing the right thing ahead of prestige – to know when you’ve made a mistake; to apologise for it, deal with the impact of the mistake – correcting things if possible – and then move on.

Good leaders frequently ask the question “what am I doing that is fast approaching, or has reached, its “use by” date?” If they are unsure of the answer, they seek honest feedback from people they can trust to tell them the truth. Then they make the necessary changes – necessary re-creation can start.

More information about Douglas Long at http://www.dglong.com/

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