What Is A Leader To Do?

A recent report by U.S. Army officials indicated that an Army officer made a flawed judgment that led to dangerous outcomes. Back a few months ago, there was a series of violent protests across Afghanistan. The protestors were upset that copies of the Qur’an (Koran) had been burned by American soldiers. The soldiers had committed these acts at installations where captured Taliban soldiers and irregulars were being held.

The Army officer explained to military investigators that he had in part authorized the destruction of the Qur’an copies because these prisoners were passing notes inside the text. An interpreter, or linguist, had informed the officer of the notes.

As it turns out, the interpreter may not have used accurate language in his communication to the American officer. The interpreter substituted some rather extreme wording to make his point but left the officer with an erroneous impression or conclusion.

The Army officer was doing what he thought was the best thing–indeed the only thing–to do: use a language specialist to gain information where he, the officer, had no such capability. Logical, acceptable, and understandable. But it proved his undoing.

What is a leader to do? The leader acted as trained and prepared. He was knew what he didn’t know. What eluded him, however, was, in the phrase of Donald Rumsfeld’s recent book, the unknown unknowns.

In writing this, here is my suggestion to you for avoiding the unhappy outcome. Know the value of information, and know also the value of insight. One is not the same and is not the guarantor of the other.