Survey

Tony Saich, December, 2014

A recent survey asks citizens from 30 countries for their views on 10 influential national leaders who have a global impact (see Appendix). There are many rich findings among the data. However, two general trends stand out. The first is that the responses are influenced by geopolitics. Differences between nations and national leaders are clearly reflected in the attitudes of their own citizens. Thus, it is plain that the tensions between China and Japan result in very poor evaluations of China and its leader by Japanese citizens and vice versa. Second, there is a correlation in responses between the nature of the political system and citizen opinions of their own nation’s leader. On the whole, in multiparty systems or genuine two-party systems such as in Europe and the U.S., citizens are more critical of their national leaders and policies than is the case in those nations where politics is less contested.

Kelman, Steve, Ronald Sanders, Gayatri Pandit, and Sarah Taylor. 2014. ““I Won't Back Down“?: Complexity and Courage in U.S. Federal Executive Decision-Making”. Read full paper Abstract

Steve Kelman, Ronald Sanders, Gayatri Pandit, and Sarah Taylor, August 2014

Senior government executives make many decisions, not-infrequently difficult ones. Cognitive limitations and biases preclude individuals from making fully value-maximizing choices. And the “groupthink“ tradition has highlighted ways group-aided decision-making can fail to live up to its potential. Out of this literature has emerged a prescriptive paradigm Janis calls “vigilant decision-making.“ For this paper, we interviewed twenty heads of subcabinet-level organizations in the U.S. federal government, asking each questions about how they made important decisions. Ten were nominated by “good-government“ experts as ones doing an outstanding job improving the organization's performance, ten chosen at random. The vigilant decision-making approach is designed for difficult decisions, presumed to be informationally, technically, or politically complex. However, we found that when we asked these executives to discuss their most difficult decision, most identified decisions that were not informationally complex but instead mainly required courage to make. In this context, the vigilant decision-making paradigm might be more problematic than the literature suggests. We discuss here the different demands for decisions involving complexity and those involving courage, and suggest a contingency model of good decision-making processes that requires executives and advisors to be ambidextrous in their approaches.

Steve Kelman, Ronald Sanders, Gayatri Pandit, and Sarah Taylor, August 2014

Senior government executives make many decisions, not-infrequently difficult ones. Cognitive limitations and biases preclude individuals from making fully value-maximizing choices. It has been suggested that, done properly, involving advisors or other outside information sources can compensate for individual-level limitations. However, the “groupthink“ tradition has highlighted ways group-aided decision-making can fail to live up to its potential. Out of this literature has emerged a paradigm Janis calls “vigilant problem-solving.“ For this paper, we interviewed twenty heads of subcabinet-level organizations in the U.S. federal government, asking each questions about how they made important decisions. Ten were nominated by “good-government“ experts as ones doing an outstanding job improving the organization's performance, ten chosen at random. Our research question was to see whether there were significant differences in how members of those two groups made decisions, specifically, to what extent executives in the two categories used a “vigilant“ decision-making process. We found, however, that similarities between the two groups of executives overwhelmed differences: at least as best as we were able to measure it, decision-making by U.S. subcabinet executives tracks vigilant decision-making recommendations fairly closely. The similarity suggests a common style of senior-level decision-making in the U.S. federal government, which we suggest grows out of a government bureaucracy's methodical culture. We did, however, develop evidence for a difference between outstanding executives and others on another dimension of decision-making style. Outstanding executives valued decisiveness in decision-making – a “bias for action“ – more than controls. Perhaps, then, what distinguishes outstanding executives from others is not vigilance but decisiveness. Contrary to the implications of the groupthink literature, the danger in government may be “paralysis by analysis“ as much or more than groupthink.