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Jena McGregor

Staff writer Jena McGregor teases out the leadership issues in the day’s news.

Tom Fox

Tom Fox

Guest contributor Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, writes weekly about issues in the federal workplace.

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.


Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.
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Leading for the future

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?

All Americans have lauded President Obama for leading the pursuit and killing of a terrorist who planned the murder of many Americans. The nation reveres presidents, starting with Washington, who have led successful wars or military actions, and it does not forgive those who have botched up as commander-in-chief, like Jimmy Carter’s failed attempt to free American hostages in Iran. We can all agree that individuals or nations that have harmed Americans should be punished, and we appreciate the leader who gets the job done.

It’s different when a president pursues a long-term strategy that he believes will strengthen the country in the future, as Obama has tried to do by proposing “investments” in education, research, infrastructure and universal health care. Obama cannot guarantee that these dollars will produce future prosperity and jobs.  He is making a calculated bet, as is any CEO who invests in a long-term company strategy. But CEOs don’t have Obama’s powerful opposition, like Congressman Paul Ryan who says that the so-called investments are merely irresponsible government spending at a time of crippling deficits, with no guarantee they will pay off.  Whether or not one agrees with the president’s strategy, his persistence in the face of strong resistance shows even more courage than the risky action that did away with Osama bin Laden.

View all panel responses to the discussion The Osama bin Laden mission, and the art of persistence

Michael Maccoby  | May 2, 2011 6:15 PM

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