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Matt Bogdanos: anti-thief of Baghdad

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

After the fall of Baghdad in 2003, looters carried off tens of thousands of antiquities from the National Museum of Iraq. Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos has made it his mission to get them back.

Here are the leadership traits Bogdanos is applying:
  1. A bias for action. He persuaded the Marines to let him pursue his threefold mission of stopping theft, raising awareness and halting the insurgency. As Bogdanos describes it, he “did what any good Marine does: I adapted, improvised and overcame.”

  2. Decisiveness. One of his first decisions: whether the primary goal was to prosecute the thieves or recover the artifacts. Bogdanos decided on the latter. So, while his team focused on gleaning information, they also saw each witness as a potential informant and realized that many of the museum’s staff aided the thieves.

  3. Ability to exploit resources. After recovering a 3,000-year-old statue of King Shalmaneser within days, Bogdanos used both English and Arabic television to lionize the man who brought back the statue, showing that the reward for turning in art was not jail or death but thanks and a cup of tea.

  4. Passion. Bogdanos’s most thrilling moment? Cradling a simple 8,000-year-old pottery jar recovered in perfect condition. His enthusiasm spread among investigators, who realized they were “doing something important for future generations.”

  5. A vision. From his top 40 list of treasures, Bogdanos has recovered 15. Back in his civilian job as a New York City prosecutor, he’s still tracking down the other 25.

    “Until we recover everything,” he says, “I will have considered my mission in Baghdad a failure.”
—Adapted from “Chasing Down History and the Thieves of Baghdad,” Renee Montagne, National Public Radio.

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