The Lemming School of Crisis Response

People are beginning to get restless, waiting for clear leadership from the Congress and the incoming political leadership in Washington. Frustration is rising as it becomes increasingly obvious that our political leaders have no interest in making any sort of bold decisions. This is a sad example of groupthink, but is worse than usual due to the way political power is doled out.

In normal business situations, there is always a problem with large groups, in that individual leadership is often opposed except by the nominal head of the group. There is only a small advantage in being the individual to step forward with a plan, and a large degree of risk if your suggestion or answer proves to be a wrong one. In political committees or appointments, it’s even worse, because the benefit, being appointed to the post, has already occurred and so only negative effects appear possible in taking a risk. At best, you stay where you are, at worse you are a well-known failure and ruined for a long time. As a result, when a crisis occurs, a group of appointees or advisors is inclined to wait for instructions from their superior, or to let someone else take the lead. It’s not that such people are unintelligent or even that they do not mean well, it’s that they are conditioned and expected to wait for someone else. This is not a party-specific condition, either. The same condition exists in republican committees that could not agree to face up to the coming Social Security crisis, and democratic committees which have to decide how to protect the American financial infrastructure.

President-elect Obama promised to provide fresh, clear leadership on the issues Americans care about most. He’s already running behind the curve on setting a course, because most people in Washington will not be willing to take the first step.

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