Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The unknown unknowns of Donald Rumsfeld

There’s something weird about the media response to the leaked Rumsfeld memo regarding the need to change tactics in Iraq, written at a time when he was still Secretary of State and publicly maintaining confidence in the existing approach.

Every leader - in business, sport and politics - attempts to motivate “the troops” and keep them believing in what their doing and their ultimate success. This is often done at a time of crisis when the actions of the leader will determine the ultimate outcome. Many business successes emerge from holding the nerve when you’re in the s-bend, but when the leader throws in the towel then failure is almost a certainty.

Thus, a business leader will continue to exhort the sales team to bigger efforts, extolling the virtues of the team and the product, even in face of disappointing sales. This will happen even when he is actively considering firing half the sales team and replacing them - or even dropping the product altogether.

The coach will be giving the team a pep-talk at half-time, telling the boys to keep at it and the game will be turned around in the second half. This despite the fact that he’s considering a number of substitutions and may himself believe the game to be beyond recovery.

Similarly, in a war situation, a political leader must display a confidence he does not always feel and a determination to pursue the war aims, even in face of current difficulties. He will almost inevitably be considering alternative options/tactics at all times, but only a fool would risk demotivating his own troops and motivating his enemy by debating this in public.

So why has it come as a shock to the media (and his many detractors) that Rumsfeld’s inner thoughts may not have matched his public utterances? Probably because they all regard Bush & Co as two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, incapable of any level of sophisticated thinking and analysis.

Frankly, the reaction tells you more about the intelligence level of the detractors - most are a lot dumber than they think - and certainly dumber than the objects of their derision.

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