Weak leaders keep delaying tough decisions because they are scared.
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction failure to make tough decisions is yet another failure of our national leadership to have enough courage to make tough decisions. The so-called “super-committee” failed to reach its mandated goal of agreeing to a compromise to reduce deficit spending by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Why am I not surprised? As you recall, creating the super-committee was the supposed “decision” Congress made in August when it failed to make a tough decision for agreeing on how to cut future deficits in order to raise the debt ceiling for borrowing more money. The supposed consequences of this failure are to trigger $1.2 trillion of automatic cuts, starting in 2013, but this won’t happen either. Congress will drag its feet until after the election next year, and then delay the cuts. Weak leaders keep delaying tough decisions because they are scared.
In my 2009 book, Business Decisions, I discussed tough decisions. These are decisions that must be made even though none of the alternatives are attractive. Strong leaders recognize that they need to make these decisions even though the response will be negative no matter what they decide. They deliberate carefully, balance different alternatives and views, and then make the decision before it’s too late. Weak leaders procrastinate, try to pass off the responsibility, find excuses for not having the courage to make a decision. I’ve had to make tough decisions in leading a turnaround at a major company, and I know how hard it is.
The American political system encourages weak leadership when tough decisions must be made. Politicians are afraid of negative attacks when they campaign, and this fear immobilizes them. They are afraid to decide to increase taxes or reduce retirement benefits because they are afraid their opponents will criticize them for it, even if that decision is necessary to save the country. The two-party system also polarizes positions and prevents necessary compromise that is always part of tough decisions. Each political party entrenches itself in its own ideology. This enables each party to blame the other, increasing the split between the leadership. Tough decisions always require compromise, and our political system not only fails to encourage compromise, it encourages polarization, making tough decisions all be impossible.
The solutions are not easy because this is a systemic failure. In theory, a third political party could come forward with willingness to compromise and make the tough decisions, but the two parties have passed laws to effectively prevent this. The limit on the debt ceiling was supposed to force tough decisions, but the politicians found a way to circumvent this. Perhaps it’s time for a balanced budget amendment. Maybe it should force out all elected officials and call for new elections if they fail to make the tough decisions on a balanced budget.