Austin Bay
America's military services devote much time and thought to developing strategic leaders. Producing a leader capable of commanding a combat theater like CENTCOM remains a long and involved process, where experience and maturation progressively hone cognitive, interpersonal and managerial skills.

Yet there are no guarantees that the four-star assuming theater command will succeed at the task of leading such a complex organization during peacetime, much less under the relentless pressure of war.

Leadership, whatever the situation -- whether civilian, commercial, military, in a classroom, at a car wreck -- is an art. Art always involves creativity. The art of leadership demands creativity and creative adaptation as time passes and circumstances evolve. Any endeavor involving creativity and adaptation involves uncertainty of outcome, no matter the perceived level of individual leadership ability.

Yet some leadership experiences are more instructive than others, particular for leadership at the highest levels. George Forsythe, in an article titled "The Preparation of Strategic Leaders" (U.S. Army War College, Parameters Magazine, Spring 1992) argued that "learning experiences that challenge existing frames of reference are more likely to foster (strategic leader) development than those that do not. A byproduct of this may be student discomfort and frustration. Few officers like to have their opinions challenged and their logic critiqued. Such challenges can lead to defensiveness and anger ..." Forsythe said mentors must "help officer students work through the emotional responses that accompany threats to their customary modes of thinking."

In other words, an effective strategic leader must early on in his development learn to manage his ego and master corrosive emotions when confronting demanding circumstances and challenging ideas.

The president of the United States is definitely a strategic leader. As Barack Obama has discovered, winning the presidential election gives the victor the chief executive's office, perquisites and responsibilities. It does not, however, automatically make him an effective strategic leader.

The 3 a.m. crisis phone call Hillary Clinton featured in a brilliant, now iconic campaign ad targeted Candidate Obama's lack of prior executive experience -- a not-so-subtle attack on Obama's lack of development as a leader. In the 2008 general election, Republicans repeated Clinton's argument.

At the time, a majority of American voters decided Obama's developmental deficiency did not matter. Hope and change polemics, with the aid of teleprompters, Hollywood stagecraft and major media cheerleading, camouflaged Obama's weakness.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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