Do We Have a Government Shutdown or a Leadership Slowdown?

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Oct 15, 2013

This history of the United States is full of leadership lessons — many great moments, and many what-not-to-do moments.

We’re in the midst of one of those what-not-to-do moments right now. From sequestration to the current government shutdown, it’s no wonder the United States Congress is facing a massive amount of criticism from the American people.

We’re supposed to view our leaders as, well, leaders. The beautiful thing about a democracy is that we get to choose (well, at least cast a vote for) who represents us in making decisions that affect the population.

Sure, not everyone agrees on the same issues, or sees things from the same viewpoint, but in a democracy that’s OK. Most democratic political systems allow, and even support and expect, that elected officials share dialogue prior to decision-making.

Can we give our representatives a time out?

So what happens when these people who have been chosen to represent our interests start acting like a bunch of middle schoolers playing tug-o-war? When they begin to place their own interests above the interests of those they lead, when they forget that they were elected to represent us – “we the people” – and not their own self-serving interests.

Do they get a time out? Do they grounded?

That’s our current situation here in the United States. A bunch of power-hungry adults are acting like children, setting a poor example of leadership, operating as a dysfunctional team, and lowering performance and morale of the entire organization – our country!

This power struggle, this lunch room fight, this playground bullying, it’s all gotten out of control. Hundreds of thousands of workers have been on unpaid leave for over a week now, thanks to the egos of a bunch of middle-aged men and women. Their inability to have open and honest dialogue, show mutual respect for one another’s viewpoints and ideas, and compromise on a solution for the greater good can have lasting negative impacts on the sustainability of the organization they lead – the United States.

An abuse of personalized power

The government shutdown grinds on, and while perhaps Congress is coming slightly closer to reaching an agreement of sorts (or maybe that’s wishful thinking), this whole ordeal is leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of most Americans. We the people – are not happy!

We elect our leaders based on how their values align to our own, sure, but we also elect our leaders to LEAD. That’s not happening. No doubt at some point they’ve learned how to lead, but currently, any leadership skills they might have are being overshadowed by ego and stubbornness.

And this abuse of personalized power has led to a crisis. The lack of leadership isn’t just affecting them; it’s costing Americans jobs and the government the revenue they so desperately need. And it’s also damaging our “brand” as a nation. If leaders in the business world acted this way, employees would cease to perform, customers would walk away, profits would decline, and the so-called leaders would be fired!

Congress me be providing us with some lessons for what not to do; But we can learn something from the situation regarding leading successfully in times of crises:

1. Communicate

Learn how to adapt and flex your communication style and approach. Learn how to manage conflict.

This shutdown has been the culmination of certain elected officials and branches of the federal government’s inability to work together. Yes, most of us view there are two factions, each with multiple shades of grey. It’s often difficult to compromise. But compromise starts with open communication and mutually respectful dialogue. I saw more of that on the playground last week with a bunch of 7 year-olds sharing a swing set than I have with Congress lately.

Leaders need to have a firm plan in hand for when conflict, no matter how serious, arises. There are several steps to conflict management that businesses can take, and maybe our political leaders could learn a thing or two as well.

2. It’s not about you

Great leaders, leaders of successful and sustainable organizations, they understand and embrace the fact it isn’t all about them. As the adage says, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” – Max DePree.

In the case of Congress, this couldn’t be more true; they are elected to serve the people. They seem to have lost the understanding that it isn’t about them and what they want, it’s about those they represent, and making sure their voices are heard and needs are met. Many of our political leaders are letting their egos win, without the consideration of the effect it has on others. It’s a poor example of leadership.

As a leader in the business world, you need to think about how your ego is impacting your ability to do your job successfully. You need think about if you’re focusing on your employees, your customers, the long-term success of the business, or if you’re getting in your own way. Our political leaders could benefit from a refresher.

3. Don’t lose trust

The consequence of this poor leadership and inability to cooperate is leading to something very dangerous: a serious loss of trust from the American people. If those you lead lose trust and faith in your abilities, then you lose their commitment and support.

It will be interesting to see how this whole debacle affects the ability of many current political leaders to actually get anything done, yet alone get re-elected, with the loss of the trust and faith of those they lead. In business, customer/client relationships can be the basis for success or failure. Those relationships are directly impacted by the relationship between employees and leaders.

A need to focus on the greater good

Great relationships are built on trust. Trust is difficult to gain, often easy to break, and hard to get back once lost. So – you may not be a government agency, but the difference is, you’ll lose profit, not votes, when your employees and customers lose trust in you.

Government workers, employees, are not the only ones impacted by the shutdown; Americans around the country are facing challenges, and some might face dire consequences should things not be resolved soon. Perhaps it’s time for our political leaders to take a step back and focus on the greater good.

It remains to be seen how the shutdown will be resolved or what the impact will be, but regardless, businesses throughout America can heed some lessons from Congress handling – or lack thereof – per the current situation.

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.