Leadership matters

Modern problems call for modern solutions

By The Mercury

Kansas State University students needn’t wonder whether they can aspire to positions of leadership. Among notable graduates are Gov. Sam Brownback and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts. Another is Richard B. Myers, the retired Air Force general who is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Students looking for leadership models in private industry got their chance for a close-up this week with an impressive one. John Hofmeister, a former president of Shell Oil Co., and the founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy, also is a KSU alumnus. In a Douglas Lecture on Tuesday he acknowledged that his experiences at K-State constituted an initial stepping stone on his journey toward leadership.

More important, Mr. Hofmeister imparted some timely observations about the challenges leaders in all walks of life face in the 21st century as well as some pragmatic observations on the qualities that good, “coherent,” leaders possess.

Among them are making sure values and behaviors are aligned, understanding context and the obligations of leadership, accepting responsibility for a decision’s social impact and being able to do what needs to be done.

Related to those are five things he says a leader must bring to the organization he or she is part of: strategy, structure, process of work, making sure that people know what they’re doing, and ways to measure progress.

As examples of individuals who have failed in crucial areas, he cited President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush. Both, in fact, may well be remembered not for their successes but for signature failures. The Iraq War, for instance, will forever weigh heavily on President Bush’s legacy. And although the ultimate outcome of health care reform is yet to be determined, President Obama has badly mishandled the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, a health-care reform program whose nickname, “Obamacare,” initially was an insult. Its rollout, Mr. Hofmeister said, had none of the leadership provisions needed to succeed.

Leadership also was on display this week at Fort Riley. There, Christine Fox, who as acting deputy secretary of defense has risen higher in the Defense Department than any other woman, met with the post commander, Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, and soldiers in the 1st Infantry Division. Yes, she received VIP treatment, but because she was willing to engage with soldiers improving their skills, she gained a better appreciation of the challenges they face in preparing for combat in the 21st century.

Mr. Hofmeister would likely have nodded in approval.

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