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Groupthink or Deadlock

When Do Leaders Learn from Their Advisors?

Paul A. Kowert

Publication Year: 2002

The danger of groupthink is now standard fare in leadership training programs and a widely accepted explanation, among political scientists, for policy-making fiascoes. Efforts to avoid groupthink, however, can lead to an even more serious problem—deadlock. Groupthink or Deadlock explores these dual problems in the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations and demonstrates how both presidents were capable of learning and consequently changing their policies, sometimes dramatically, but at the same time doing so in characteristically different ways. Kowert points to the need for leaders to organize their staff in a way that fits their learning and leadership style and allows them to negotiate a path between groupthink and deadlock.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series on the Presidency: Contemporary Issues


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Front matter

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

Tables and Figures

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This is a book about getting and using advice. It examines the decisions of two American presidents and explains why they were able to learn more from Cabinet officials, staff experts, friends, and even opponents in some cases than in others. Taking on such a project, I naturally sought advice myself. I now owe a great debt to many people. From the beginning, the guidance and...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-9

It may be lonely at the top, but hardly ever so lonely that important decisions in government and business are made by only one person. Even presidents and prime ministers must rely on others. In fact, the most powerful leaders generally confront such a range of problems that they require assistance and advice more frequently than less prominent figures. Small wonder, then, that...

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2. Who Learns, and When?

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pp. 11-30

It is easy to think of moments in history when the fate of many hinged on the actions of a few. This does not mean that scholars would always be well-advised to concentrate their attention on the qualities of those few individuals. Apart from historical curiosity, investigating the character traits or decision-making abilities...

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3. Eisenhower and Reagan: Comparing Learning Styles

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pp. 31-59

“He was enormously popular during his eight years in the White House. In contrast to Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter, he not only entered but also left office riding high in the polls. Yet when he stepped down the experts who make it their business to observe presidents closely did not join in the public adulation.”1 The coy ambiguity of this description, written...

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4. Learning

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pp. 61-95

Learning is a common enough phenomenon. Not only people, but also animals and computers are capable of it. Even politicians occasionally learn although, as A. J. P. Taylor pointed out, they may well learn the wrong lessons from history.1 Military leaders are likewise criticized on occasion for having learned the lessons of the last war (and for being unprepared to fight the next...

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5. Groupthink

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pp. 97-124

Warnings against the dangers of groupthink are standard fare in schools of business and government. Excessive concurrence-seeking in policy-making groups has been offered as the chief explanation for poor decision making culminating in disasters ranging from Pearl Harbor and Watergate to the ill-fated Challenger...

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6. Deadlock

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pp. 125-150

Conventional wisdom has it that Ronald Reagan was poorly informed about many of the major issues of his day. This view was not only held by his political opponents but also encouraged by a spate of critical insider-accounts published by former associates. Accordingly, Reagan seems an obvious choice for a discussion of learning failures. Unlike the Eisenhower revisionists (and...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 151-167

Five hundred years ago, Niccolò Machiavelli urged princes to pay close attention to their need for advice. Amid the exhortations for which he became famous—that rulers must be cunning, ruthless, and sometimes even cruel—Machiavelli also insists that kings and princes need help. Like modern presidents, however, princes face a dilemma. They must seek counsel, but they must...


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pp. 169-230


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pp. 231-256


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pp. 257-265

E-ISBN-13: 9780791489208
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791452493
Print-ISBN-10: 0791452492

Page Count: 275
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: SUNY series on the Presidency: Contemporary Issues
Series Editor Byline: John Kenneth White See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 52588917
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Groupthink or Deadlock

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Presidents -- United States -- Decision making.
  • Presidents -- United States -- Staff.
  • Political leadership -- United States.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1953-1961.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1981-1989.
  • Political consultants -- United States.
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