[October 3, 2016] There has been some talk recently about retired General David Petraeus’ comments on the causes of the formation of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State (aka, ISIS or ISIL). Senior leaders with experience and a deep appreciation for solving wide-ranging and serious problems will say that it is not the defeat of the Islamic State that is of concern but what to do after they are defeated.
Likewise, leaders who focus on the most immediate of problems, regardless of importance, are not fulfilling their moral obligations as a leader. Senior leaders are obliged to know that looking forward is the root of leadership and any effort to divert their attention must be pushed aside. That is why Petraeus said that it is not the defeat of the Islamic State that is so important – because they will be defeated – but what are we to do in the Middle East after it no longer poses a threat.
It has been said that during World War II that the German military was good at tactics but poor at strategy and that the U.S. military was poor at tactics but good at strategy. While that is an oversimplification there is certain merit in it. The U.S. was particularly good at looking beyond the current battle or campaign into what would be next to complete the strategy of “Europe First.” And of course, Germany lost as did Japan.
When Lee Iacocca was brought on to lead the foundering Chrysler Corporation, it was witnessing staggering loses, poor quality workmanship, and a near revolt of its shareholders. His priority was a cash infusion to pull it away from the brink of bankruptcy but it was his work to set the stage for improved quality, better worker morale, and stability within the organization was where he put most of his effort. Iacocca knew that he had to look forward beyond the effort to obtain federal government assistance and to what was to come after.
Steve Jobs at Apple Inc. did the same. That is what great leaders do, they look forward beyond the immediate and beyond what most people see. Without such a vision there would be little progress and constant reaction to events (tactics) rather than proactive action (strategy).
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