Question: Finding and killing Osama bin Laden has required focus, patience and persistence from presidents and top government officials over a decade of repeated setbacks--qualities that are in short supply in a world where time horizons are becoming increasingly short. How can leaders resist the natural temptation to move on to other priorities when goals begin to look like they might be out of reach?
The very essence of robust leadership is the capacity and tenacity to relentlessly focus on strategic goals, even amid the noise and chaos of competing priorities. Whether you are a leader of a company or the leader of a country, with today’s technology and instantaneous media access the sheer volume of information and disinformation flowing your way is staggering. Washington is no exception; it is indeed a festering ground for distraction, some real and some fabricated. In an environment rife with diversions, political posturing and deliberately implemented forms of distraction (think Donald Trump and the birther issue), it’s a daily challenge for any committed political leader to stay on purpose.
Over years of researching and working with leaders in a variety of settings, I have found that the key to remaining focused, to becoming a purpose-linked leader, is rooted in the practice of reflective contemplation. Some of the most effective leaders I’ve met engage in a process of quiet reflective thinking each day and devote time to reconnecting with the true purpose of the organization for which they are responsible. These leaders review the day ahead with its myriad meetings and events to assure that the bulk of their attention will be centered on activities that support the organization’s higher goals.
The approach these leaders use to achieve a state of reflective contemplation varies. Some do so through quiet meditation, a number engage in sports or exercise, while some achieve it through music, writing or other pursuits. Because it is a highly individual process, each leader utilizes a method that works best for them. With focus, discipline and practice, they became adept at avoiding the seduction of the “tactical traps”—those small squeaky-wheel problems that crop up daily and suck time and energy away, leaving behind a momentary sense of accomplishment that fades with the realization that large objectives have been left unaddressed.
Purpose-linked leaders enlist their staff to help keep them on track. Most surround themselves with strong administrators who are active gatekeepers that monitor the issues brought to these leaders so that distractions are filtered out of the daily agenda. Purpose-linked leaders are also incredibly self-aware and constantly learn from their experiences at work and in their personal lives. Through their openness to learning, they develop a true understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, prejudices and biases, the impact they have on others and the larger influence they have on the organization and the community it serves. This new information informs their approach to issues and challenges and helps keep their thinking fresh and relevant.
The elimination of Osama bin Laden is a testament to the current administration and the power of purpose-linked leadership. Through cooperation and collaboration between the White House and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the administration was able to carefully implement a strategy that will go a long way toward eradicating the world of a particularly virulent form of evil.
To do so demanded much of our leaders. President Obama is a case in point. Over the last few days while the operation to take out Osama bin Laden was being implemented, he engaged in a variety of activities, all of which could have been fatal distractions. He visited survivors of tornado-ravaged Alabama, stood witness to the last shuttle flight at Cape Canaveral and played golf--yet reportedly spent most of Sunday sequestered in the Situation Room at the White House dealing with bin Laden. His job as the nation’s leader is one of constant balance--managing the issues at hand, while remaining unwaveringly focused on the deeper purpose and long-range goals that support the United States.
Over the days and weeks to come, the political pundits and Washington insiders will put their own spin on the bin Laden operation, but what we can say without hesitation is that President Obama and our defense and security leaders gave America their best. The stakes were high, and they delivered by not succumbing to distracted leadership.
View all panel responses to the discussion The Osama bin Laden mission, and the art of persistence
Alaina Love | May 2, 2011 6:15 PM