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West Point Cadets
West Point cadets and instructors

West Point Cadets

A group of 13 cadets and four instructors from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point take on the weekly 'On Leadership' questions. Who better to explore the gray areas of leadership than members of The Long Gray Line?

A simple three-step process

Q:The overwhelming consensus among economists is that the economy needs another shot of short-term stimulus spending. But as the president and congressional leaders have discovered in trying to pass a new stimulus bill, voters want to start bringing the deficit down now. Is this one of those leadership moments when it is better to accommodate strong constituent beliefs rather than trying to convince them they are wrong?

What a turn-around! I recall, not so long ago, a significant amount of blame for the failing economy fell upon the shoulders of over-extended citizens, whether it be unaffordable mortgages or too much credit-card debt. I'd like to share a very simple process I follow when I find resistance to a vision or plan I'd like to implement within my organization. It seems applicable here.

1. "What information or priorities do I need to communicate to help my subordinates understand why this course of action is the best?" The root cause of resistance often stems from leaders (or experts) failing to communicate the right information to subordinates (constituents). Asking this question allows us to identify where communication failures exist or an understanding of the priorities is lacking.

If economic stimulus warrants a high enough priority to take on additional debt, then explain that to us. Where would those billions go if not used for the stimulus? Furthermore, communicate the results of previous stimulus attempts so we see the value. Assuming I represent the average American, it appears that the perceived effectiveness of the stimulus money is based on one's political party affiliation more than the actual economic numbers. That may not be true, but that's how it has been communicated to this point. Before I invest more, I want to know what my rate of return was on the initial investment and the return I can expect on the new money I'm investing. The facts simply aren't clear so I'm not motivated to invest, especially on margin.

2. "What information/priorities do my subordinates have that is the basis of resistance?" It is almost always beneficial to develop an understanding of how my subordinates are viewing the problem and possible solutions (I usually do this up front to account for these concerns early). This step helps identify additional communication gaps, but often makes the leader aware of information important to the constituents.

Are the people of the nation sending a message that a slower economic recovery is acceptable because they are concerned about other priorities such as health care, Social Security, or the Middle East? Is it debt aversion due to personal foreclosures or events in Greece? More importantly, do people misunderstand the national priorities? The gap in perspectives is meaningful and needs to be addressed by the experts and leaders.

This step is convoluted in this situation because the gap could be purely the result of communication failures discussed in Step 1. If not, we could have a greater issue with divergent priorities between the government and the people. An educated public with different priorities than its own representative government starts to sound a little unconstitutional.

3. "Am I wrong?" I always leave room for the possibility that I could be wrong or the plan might need to be adjusted. I don't really think this step provides much insight in this situation. The experts are probably right: more stimulus money would help the economy. The issue revolves around their ability to communicate the effectiveness and how it fits into our list of priorities.

Don't just roll over because constituents or subordinates appear to resist. Take on the challenge of educating the constituents. After you have educated them, listen to their (educated) concerns to make sure the plan is as good as you think it is. -- Major Donnie LaGrange

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

By West Point Cadets

 |  June 22, 2010; 12:52 PM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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