Leadership and Group Think

By | July 6, 2014

[July 06, 2014] Military leaders are taught from the beginning to be aware of the dangers of “group think.” There have been a number of colossal military disasters that resulted from group think: Custer’s Last Stand, the Maginot Line, Stalingrad, and the Bay of Pigs. Any good leader would rather learn from group think failures than experience them personally. A military failure does not mean bankruptcy and a new resumé, but death and destruction for our troops and what we value.

Senior LeadershipThere are a number of things to look out for that can be seen as indicators of group think. The following list is based on psychologist Dr. Irving Janis’ work1:

  • Attitude of invulnerability and the taking of unnecessary risks
  • Discrediting evidence to the group’s beliefs
  • Group members are pressured to conform
  • Stereotyping of outsiders in negative terms
  • Belief in the group’s moral superiority
  • Group self-censorship through peer pressure and self-censorship
  • Complacency
  • Appearance of unanimous decisions

There are many techniques to overcome group think, if the senior leadership has the moral courage to implement them. For example, having a “red team” to help uncover defects, inefficiencies, and to expose failures is a particular good method. Red Teams can also provide insight into methods to improve the organization.  Their value stems from their abilities to create assessments that are quick and more realistic.

Regardless of the technique used to attack group think, the biggest impediment to stopping it is the lack of moral courage. Yes, such a simple concept yet so difficult to implement and to keep pushing for excellence. Senior leadership plays the most crucial role by leading the organization by providing direction and vision by avoiding group think.

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[1] The term “group think” was coined by the psychologist Irving Janis in his 1972 work, Victims of Group think: A Psychological Study of Foreign- Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Group think describes what happens when individual thought cedes to the will of group consciousness. Its prevalence in the world is common, and the dangers of group think are all too real, especially when it comes to decision-making in the military and health care. Group think suppresses dissenting views and can lead to an over simplified view of problems and solutions.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

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