There's an age-old debate, often lampooned in popular culture but not so easy to answer: Would a leader rather be feared or loved?
Best short answer: To be feared by one's enemies; to be loved by one's people and by other fair-minded folk; to be respected by all.
That's true for Presidents pondering what to do about terrorists. But it's also may be true for corporate leaders pondering litigious adversaries.
Shortly after Barack Obama is sworn in Tuesday as the 44th U.S. President, he is likely to make good on his promise to announce the closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But he won't be in a hurry to actually close the base. He must confront the sticky issue of what to do with prisoners who undoubtedly are unrepentant, blood-thirsty terrorists but who have been denied due process and, in some instances, tortured in the search for intelligence to keep the nation safe. Releasing them would be crazy; trying them in U.S. courts would be fruitless. It's a lot easier to condemn in a political campaign than to govern wisely. Obama faces the difficult path of showing the world that the United States will staunchly defend human rights even those of killers who have no respect for others' human rights while also demonstrating a hardened-steel resolve against those who use fear and intimidation to advance their twisted agendas.
Likewise, those in power in Israel have been confronted with difficult choices in how best to deal with rocket-launching Hamas in Gaza. As it has so many times in the past, Israel has chosen a hard line, seeking its enemies' fear over the approval of its neighbors and others in the world community. This is both understandable and tragically unwise. Understandable in that so many Arab leaders clearly would prefer that Israel cease to exist. And tragically unwise in that the long-term battle for peace and prosperity in Israel will be waged in the hearts and minds of non-Israelis. Israel has waged war ruthlessly in Gaza, including the shelling of the U.N. compound, hospitals and mosques (places from which Hamas has fired rockets with cruel calculation that innocent casualties of Isreali counter-strikes will produce priceless outrage among Arab states and sympathy for Hamas in the world community at large).
Shifting gears away from war to the corporate front, a similar difficult choice is faced by companies defending against ill-founded lawsuits. It is not uncommon for a corporation to be sued by plaintiffs who have undergone truly tragic losses but whose claim against the company's product is entirely specious. The difficult row to hoe is to express empathy and concern for the customers' injuries or losses but to also express steel-willed resolve to trial lawyers that the company will aggressively defend itself in court. Rolling over to settlement demands to avoid an entirely unpleasant trial risks painting your corporation as an easy mark for nuisance suits in the future.
(to be continued next post)
- Jon Harmon