Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dysfunction Junction: Our Federal Government

 Have the Republicans given up or are they simply trying to destroy the country?  I get the role of the opposition is to challenge the party in power and make sure you extract something during legislative debates, but for the last five years, and I imagine for the next three years, they will be willing to induce significant harm to this nation.  I accept there will be some instances when the opposition will take a firm ‘no’ position and I get that.  But this is completely different, and what’s worse about it now is it is no longer about ideology, but politics.  Not the good kind of political bargaining and gamesmanship, but the nasty personal, damaging, and selfish kind.  Our government is dysfunctional and I just had to break out my copy of Patrick Lencioni Five Dysfunctions of a Team to analyze further.

Lencioni’s leadership fable has been read by millions and it is simple and effective lesson in rooting out the sources of a team’s inability to succeed.  So let’s look at Congress shall we?  Lencioni’s pyramid of dysfunction is included below and we shall start from the bottom.

Dysfunction One:  Absence of Trust

It all starts here, and in the case of politics and our government, it could very well end here.  Trust in this case comes down to three simple tenets: The legislative and executive branches need to be open and honest with one another, individuals cannot be crippled with a fear of failure, and mistakes cannot be covered up.  Think about it, when was the last time an elected official admitted making  a mistake, when was the last time a political party didn’t go after a scalp when something bad happened, and for as many times as these old white guys in the Senate call each other ‘my friend’, they certainly have a hard time being honest with one another and honest with their constituents.  Government oversight is important, but when the likes of Darrell Issa abuse their power, you create an environment of cover up.  And finally, for once I would like our leaders to admit they screwed up, which is not the same as saying mistakes were made.  We would be better off if President Bush admitted that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake and we would be better off if President Obama said the failure to prevent the Benghazi attack was a mistake and he is ultimately responsible.

Dysfunction Two: Fear of Conflict

You may be saying how can we have a fear of conflict if it appears is all we have is conflict between Democrats and Republicans?  Let me start by saying, conflict is good if it leads to constructive debate.  Teams that struggle at this stage often lack debate on the merits of the issue at hand and tend to embroil in personal-attack type conflict and not issue conflict, they tend to take things ‘offline’ (haven’t we heard the term kick-the-can enough recently to describe Congress), and the best ideas, often a combination of different proposals, never develop.  As for Congress, there certainly is plenty of conflict, none of it healthy.  Instead we have Middle School name calling from the likes of Alan Grayson, Joe Wilson, Alan West, Steve King, and many others.  Debate?  More like grandstanding and self-promotion.  Try watching an hour of floor coverage from the House or Senate on C-Span or watching a hearing, there is no debate, just self-promotion.  And finally, if debate is to create the best ideas, then why did the Republicans  completely retreat from working with Democrats on economic recovery, job growth, healthcare, and immigration?  They refused to debate.

Dysfunction Three: Lack of Commitment

If you cannot debate the topic because one side retreats, how do you build commitment?  Keep in mind, commitment isn’t consensus.  It does not require unanimity, but it does require all parties to accept the decision and move forward.  Yes it may be difficult to lose a debate, but there comes a time when discussing it is over and you put your energy into supporting the group’s decision.  Instead we have a Republican controlled Congress that has taken dozens of votes to repeal the constitutionally upheld Affordable Care Act, and to go as far as shutting down the federal government.  The situation will continue to deteriorate as the sides refuse to even talk to each other, but instead go to the media or outsiders and criticize the vote or decision taken.  We witnessed this firsthand when Congress agreed to reopen the government and avoid default and those that opposed continued to oppose, and took to the media.

Dysfunction Four: Avoidance of Accountability

If there is no commitment to succeed, then how can there be accountability?  Yes there have been some public spats between and amongst the political parties, but it’s up to party leadership to hold its members accountable.  As Lencioni points out, avoidance of accountability leads to mediocrity, leads to failure to meet deadlines, and puts unfair burden on the leader.  It is why so many pundits and politicians want to blame the president when Congress fails to act, remember the super committee?  Of course unlike in the private sector, the public, in the form of elections can hold our representatives accountable.  We need to demand more of our government.   We need to demand that compromise is not weakness.

Dysfunction Five: Inattention to Results

And now we reach the top of the pyramid, a place where a true team will set aside personal, departmental, or political party goals and rewards in favor of the greater good.  Does anyone believe that in today’s political maelstrom a majority of our elected representatives are willing to put the greater good ahead of the individual?  The primary allegiance is to themselves to get re-elected and maintain the sweet life, feed their own ego, to make even more money, and gain greater prestige.  Mr. Smith may have gone to Washington, but Mr. Cruz now goes for personal reward. 

Yes, we have a dysfunctional government because our elected officials are unable and unwilling to focus on the greater good, the common goal.  Why?  Because to do so, just may cost them personally.  The power and the prestige makes them unable to trust, unwilling to accept the notion of losing  a debate,  reluctant to commit after a vote is taken, loath to hold one another accountable, and averse to putting the greater good ahead of individual glory. 

We have a failure of leadership and individual accountability.  The good news is, if latest polling is an indication, the public may have reached the same conclusion and are deciding it’s time to change the players and hopefully the game.  The bad news, the rules are still the same and political parties and special interests control too much.  The odds are long and the deck is stacked, but we do not have to accept the status quo.


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