as published in the Blytheville Courier News on Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Groupthink is a phenomenon within the field of psychology, which all leaders must continually be at war with. It occurs when a group of people (usually subconsciously) desires harmony and conformity even more than true leadership and wise solutions. This can occur even to the extent that bad decisions are routinely made and even welcomed in order to maintain loyalty, harmony and conformity. Alternative viewpoints and dissent are vigorously suppressed and tough issues are avoided. It also kills “outside of the box” creative thinking. It refuses to allow for tough, critical evaluation of problems.
I have had enough. I can’t take it anymore! I have witnessed many, many, many meetings ranging from state government, county government, city government, numerous government committees, multiple school boards and local organizations. Real leadership is always, always, always results-oriented. It is never simply a public relations campaign. More times than I care to remember, I have seen area leaders delude themselves into celebrating insignificant minor attributes and miss the true elephants living in their boardrooms.
The term “elephant in the room” is an English saying that speaks to an obvious truth that cannot be ignored or denied, despite the fact that those in the room are trying their best to do just that. Think about it – an elephant in any room would be impossible to overlook.
Let me give a hypothetical example of groupthink to drive home my point. Pretend that you are on the management team of a restaurant company, and your restaurants serve the most horrible tasting food and employ the rudest employees anywhere. True leadership would address the fact that service is bad and the product is disgusting. Corrections would be made and the problem would be solved in order to avoid bankruptcy. An example of groupthink (like I’ve witnessed) would be to have prolonged meetings (open to the public and press of course) where each member participates in a love fest of backslapping and congratulatory speeches. These speeches would detail how “people have been telling us” that your restaurant has the most unique and beautiful saltshakers in the state. Those saltshakers are far more awesome that those by comparably sized restaurants nearby. In fact, they are more magnificent than those in bigger restaurants anywhere else in the Delta; and we know how much more difficult it is here in the Delta (i.e. invalid default excuse for failure).
Speakers would repetitively belabor the point that great pride should be taken in those shakers. Others might say that all the bad comments people make about your restaurant (even though they are about food quality and service) are surely a result of the fact that they have not been in to see all the hard work put into those beautiful saltshakers! (By the way, how hard you work is not important, results are!) Clearly, the company’s enemies are spreading vile comments (about food quality and service) because they clearly can’t compete with those wonderful saltshakers! Everyone in the meetings leave with chest thumping pride that the company is misunderstood nevertheless has the world’s greatest saltshakers.
How self-deluded those “managers” are. The function of a restaurant is to provide fast, friendly service and to sell delicious, tasty food. If the restaurant loses all of its customers because of the foundational food and service issues, no one will ever notice the almost insignificant saltshakers.
Likewise, if the purpose of the group is a school, no one will care about any issue or point of pride (saltshaker), if students can’t read, write, add, subtract, multiply, divide and communicate properly. If the board is a government body, no one will care about smaller insignificant novelties, if the big things are not taken care of. No one will care about the sidewalk cracks if the city is a tumbleweed ridden disaster zone, unsafe to raise and educate kids and kills job opportunities necessary to provide for their families.
Groupthink limits the view of our “leaders” to only those ideas allowed to prevail within the smaller group, to the exclusion of the overall community’s complaints. Eventually, all those infected with groupthink begin to believe their own marketing lies. Those infected will always (eventually) find themselves in a siege mentality, where they believe themselves to be persecuted and attacked. By definition they are exclusionary. The culture of groupthink promotes “yes men” and gross flattery, while adamantly hating inconvenient truths.
So, what is the solution? Leaders, I implore you to be honest with the facts. Own our mistakes and don’t try to “spin” our failures. Stop worrying about how we look while denying where we are. If our product is bad, fix the product. If our service is bad, fix the service. If our kids aren’t educated, fix it. If we live in a war zone, fix it. If our government is broken, fix it by cutting spending.
Statesmen and stateswomen arise. True leaders arise. Spin-doctors, bureaucrats and narcissists just stop it – we have had enough!