When a good leader embarks on a journey, he knows why they're going, where they're going, and when they'll finish. The goals and outcomes are clear. Achieving them is a matter of execution and circumstance, but beginning with a clear statement and vision of what success looks like is crucial.
Seth Godin wrote about the problem with transoms being that it's too easy to throw stuff out there in the hopes that something sticks. He argues that without credibility you will likely struggle to make yourself heard above the fray, that companies could make it easier for people to share ideas with them, and who knows what could come of that?
It underscores idea that good leaders know their destination when they embark. If you want your idea to be heard, or you want to be open to new ideas, create the circumstances to ensure that you will get what you want. Don't just hope that good things will come.
But in our world, the focus all too often is on the symptoms and processes and not the underlying cause or the eventual outcome. Your odds of blundering into a good outcome this way are infinitesimal. This is why so many people feel like their company or government seems to relentlessly churn over the same ground every bloody day. There is never real progress, just "metrics that show progress." It really does suck to be us, and worse, we don't seem to be able to get past the suckiness.
Take education - what is the goal? Is it happy teachers? Beautiful schools? Quality curricula? More budget? Competition with other countries? Improved assessments? What about healthcare? What outcome do we want to create? Is it happier doctors? Cheaper medicine? One payer? Happier insurance companies? Universal access? Better hospitals? More innovation?
In both cases, we rudderless because there's no clarity about the end goal. Shouldn't education be about ensuring that every child is best-prepared to excel in whatever future they choose? Shouldn't healthcare be about creating the healthiest society possible? Why don't we measure effective education by what students are capable of doing after they graduate? Why don't we measure effective healthcare by how infrequently people need to go to the doctor?
Without clear guidance, a team flounders. Without clear guidance, a nation can flounder as well. Take the "war" in Afghanistan. What is success? Is it the eradication of the Taliban? I despise what they stand for, but that feels awfully like extermination, or genocide. The Taliban are a socio-political faction in Afghanistan. Others might not agree with their principles, but that doesn't mean anyone has the right to erase its member from existence. I know many people who are passionately opposed to President Obama and the Democratic Party, or Gordon Brown and the Labor Party in the UK, or whatever, but I don't see those opponents building a military machine to exterminate them. We are civilized ...aren't we??
Is it the eradication of Al Qaeda? Terrorism is the use of violence to provoke social change - this is a criminal act, requiring a police force not a military. You don't stop violence with violence - you feed it. It is exactly the reaction they are looking for, and exactly what they can then use to recruit more poor and desperate people to their cause. Racism is a form of terrorism, but Martin Luther King Jr. taught us that "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
If the goal in Afghanistan is to exterminate a political party, we should stop and ask ourselves what that says about us. If the goal is to eliminate terrorism, we should stop and ask ourselves how that work began in the United States of America with the (ongoing) elimination of terrorism against black (and other) people.
Frank Rich's OpEd in the NY Times compares (as many others have) Afghanistan to Vietnam - wondering if we will make this same mistake yet again? I see that the President is taking a step back to deliberate. It is true that Al Qaeda attacked America, but they are a band of criminals, not a sovereign nation.
I hope at a minimum the President's deliberation yields a clear statement of the meaning of "winning"; but I really hope he realizes that the only nation that has declared war thus far is America.