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Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business at the University of Southern California. His newest book is 'Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership.'

Not in the Quiver

First of all, fear is not a "dirty little secret." It is used openly and frequently and not as furtively as your question suggests. "Coercive power," to use a less-freighted phrase, is the main incentive deployed in most organizations. What I mean by that is the bosses/authority figures control the means to their subordinates' needs and satisfactions. "Incentives" is a sanitary way of putting it, but what it means is that the boss typically allocates funds, decides on salaries and promotions, types of jobs assigned, vacations, inclusion on important decisions, etc. These are not trivial rewards or punishment. Fear or coercion must be carefully used, however, because it can easily backfire and be counter-productive; e.g. lead to spiteful compliance rather than commitment, resentment rather than willing collaboration, etc.

Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, was the first to use fear regularly and fearlessly. He did keep the union together and the payoff was worth it but the backlash set the party back some as well. Now getting to President Obama, he ran on platform of a vivid utopian, bi-partisan dream. God knows he's tried, made all the obvious efforts and would have a liked a bill that wold have included the "government option," which he will probably have to forgo if he wants to get some health-reform legislation through relatively soon.

Fear is useless unless you have the capacity to reward and punish and in many cases, in this Congress, I don't think he has fear in his quiver. So he's going to have to settle for a bill that would include the 47 million uninsured, which will eventually lead to a government option in due course. As I wrote in a previous response about whether Obama should use more muscle, I said of course. But significant and costly legislation builds degree by degree; agreement on including everyone is an important first step and before Obama's term is over, if he lasts the full eight years, we'll surely have a government option and maybe even a one-payer system.

Fear won't work for this president at this this time because those Blue Dog Democrats and some Republicans are fearful but not of the president. It's their constituents who have fear in their quiver, assuring victory or defeat in those marginal districts where their representatives won the last time by a flickering eyelash.

By Warren Bennis

 |  August 18, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The Unripe Moment | Next: No Place for Intimidation


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Let him crack the whip, then we will see how he handles a REAL AMERICAN REVOLUTION....

Posted by: jeffreymillermirantcom | August 18, 2009 12:45 PM
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Let him crack the whip, then he we will see how he handles a revolution of the real American People

Posted by: jeffreymillermirantcom | August 18, 2009 12:44 PM
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