Leadership Lessons from the Shutdown

When foreign tourists turn up at the Statue of Liberty only to be told that it’s closed because the government has run out of money, some of them balk in disbelief. In reality the shutdown is embarrassing for America. Muddling democracy they would argue, is better than communism. Many compare the Congress to a dysfunctional family where the inability to have any constructive conversation does more damage than good to the rest of the family (am engrossed in Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards…). It’s a travesty that it has come to this, but like in all crises one thing we need to do is look at what we can learn from it.

In an article on, Samuel Bacharach from Cornell University highlights what leaders can learn from the current relationships in Congress.

  • Don’t stay with your base too long. It’s nice where you’re on a team that is cheering you on. Everyone on your side agrees with your plans and what you say. But don’t get lost in it. Know when you get your people together on the same page, singing the same tune, and then know when to start reaching out to others.
  • Make only token gestures to your exact opposites. Don’t spend too much time with people you can’t win over. You’ll have your hardliners and though you will need to show that you acknowledge their presence, your efforts will be wasted on trying to convince people who don’t want their minds changed.
  • Try to win the middle. These are people who are open to negotiation. They want a resolution. They may not agree with you 100% but they are willing to make concessions. You’ll have a better chance of winning their vote.
  • Know when not to negotiate. Sometimes talking does do nothing. Especially if no one can agree what to talk about.
  • Don’t confuse short-term vs. long-term accountability. Keep perspective. Focus on the larger group. It’s not just about your team right now, and in this case it’s not just about the Republicans and the Democrats. It’s the country Congress needs to be answering to.
  • Keep your ego out of the game. This follows on from the previous point. It’s not about you, and if you can keep it that way the process is easier for everyone. Don Miguel Ruiz puts it best: “Never take it personally.”

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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