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Sally Blount

Sally Blount

Sally Blount is dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. An internationally recognized expert in the fields of negotiation and behavioral decision-making, she has more than 20 years of experience in higher education.

Confronting our human fallacies

Question: In taking control of the House this week, Republicans have committed themselves to investigating and repealing all of the major initiatives taken by the Democratic president and Congress over the past two years. How much should the new leaders of any organization focus on undoing the past as opposed to charting a more affirmative course for the future?

The past can never be relived. It's over. There is no such thing as "undoing" it. Leaders must always focus on the present and the future, and work to identify what their organization needs to best get it from here to there. The world is changing so fast. The belief that any policy from the past is absolutely right (or wrong) is usually out of date by the time a new leader comes into office. As humans, we struggle with looking ahead. We struggle with change. It is so much easier to say in the face of potential change, "That's how we've always done it and it's worked," or, "We tried that before and it didn't work."

It often seems that, on an innate level, humans are ill equipped to organize effectively, whether it be in the private, public or not-for-profit sectors. Our technological capabilities to build and organize networks efficiently over the Internet have far outstripped our social capacities to build and manage more formal, complex human organizations. Yet, our 8-billion-person planet of the 21st century will need courageous leaders who know how to break through the change-averse pathologies of established bureaucracies to drive humanity forward. It's hard to imagine how our current political process will allow us to elect and provide ongoing support for the public-sector leaders who could get us there.

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By Sally Blount

 |  January 4, 2011; 11:38 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Government leadership , Leadership weaknesses Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: It all depends on your goal | Next: Prudent leadership is still MIA


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For decades, the Congress has robbed funds from Social Security payroll tax surpluses in order to pay for other things, primarily for military build-ups. Lyndon Johnson started it off during the Vietnam War. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill raised payroll taxes in order to help pay for Reagan's military build-up. Bill Clinton paid off T-bills instead of setting aside surplus payroll taxes into some other type of arrangement based on the actual accumulation of real, actual money. To his credit, this was probably all that he could do because of the Republican Congress. Al Gore wanted to do something similar but was defeated in his bid to become President. And George Bush used Social Security surpluses to fund a military effort, like Reagan before him.

It's not the bureaucracies that are at fault; it's the elected representatives of the people telling voters what they wanted to hear instead of telling them the truth. If you try to tell older people that there's not enough money left for Social Security, they say, "oh, no, I paid into the system for decades and I'm going to get back what I paid in". Well, this was the rationale that politicians used to keep people from grousing about having to pay a tax for support of retirees, but it was all based on a lie. Both political parties have participated in that lie, for decades.

So, you have deeply held beliefs compounded by lies. The only way to get beyond that is to try to tell people that they were lied to, but they don't want to hear it. The only solution may be if all of our creditors gang up on the US government and force cuts to be made, taxes to be raised, or both, or else we get cut-off from any new loans. It's a shame that it's going to come to that, but unfortunately that's what I see in store for the future.

Posted by: armyofone | January 8, 2011 3:42 AM
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