Divided We Stand?

Posted on Nov 4, 2010 | 15 Comments

With a divided government now in Washington, it is going to take a blending of ideas from the Left and the Right to move policy forward over the next two years. Whether this can happen politically remains to be seen, but from a management standpoint, opposing perspectives offer potential for progress.

Peter Drucker found inspiration in the clash of ideas. He wrote that “in an effective discussion . . . you need dissent; but you have to make it productive.” He went on to say, “All the first-rate decision-makers I’ve observed had a very simple rule . . . If you have quick consensus on an important matter, don’t make the decision. Acclamation means nobody has done the homework.”

In Washington, each party thinks it has a lock on what makes sense for the nation. Perhaps good ideas exist within their dissenting positions, and both sides need to step back to consider the other’s perspective. To this point, Drucker cited Mary Parker Follet who advised that, “when you have dissent in an organization, you should never ask who is right. You should not even ask what is right. You must assume that each faction gives the right answer.”

Are you at all hopeful that a divided government can produce the kind of good ideas and action borne of dissent? Or is the partisanship in Washington too extreme to bridge the divide?

President Barack Obama


  1. Jim DellaNeve
    November 5, 2010

    Mary Parker Follet is correct that all sides must be heard (assume that all sides are correct). This is effective dialogue. Eventually, you have to form a concensus, make a decision and develop a course of action. This dialogue has been missing for quite awhile in Washington. I believe that President Bush would have done this prior to 9-11. Once the war started, I think that he locked into crisis mode and didn’t work on this collaboration (something he campaigned on). President Obama has never met with his Republican opponents and rarely with his own party. Very odd behavior. I won’t speculate as to why this is.

    The current discourse is largely without discussion, debate along with “facts and data”. As an engineer, I am accustomed to bringing facts and data to a discussion. I will readily change my mind if the facts are better from the other viewpoint. I get frustrated by the retoric of our politicians. Always dogma and rarely problem solving. The new governor of New Jersey, Chris Chistie is a breath of fresh air. While one may not like his positions, he directly states the problems, then states his strategy to fix them. Let’s see if he’s right. Will lower taxes and a balanced budget create more jobs? Has this worked in the past? Arthur Laffer thinks that this has happened three times this century. What do high deficits, high taxes and regulations produce? See California, Illinois, Ohio, Oregon, NY, France, Greece, etc. Is there a correlation with these factors and a certain set of results? This should be the debate. Instead, those that want balanced budgets are “mean and want children to go to bed hungry”. Big government supporters are labelled “Socialists”. Not the kind of collaboration required to make the country better.

  2. Jim Outland
    November 5, 2010

    I think self-interest on the part of politicians on both sides is a more significant threat to progress than partisanship. In the last election, Politicians demonstrated a willingness to be for and against any program or position as long as it would get them elected. In Michigan, for example, Gary Peters ran, and was reelected, as a deficit reducing conservative democrat even though he supported and voted for all of Obama’s spending programs. The core problem is an electorate that votes based on advertising, attack ads, and what candidates say instead of looking at the candidates track record. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Obama is inept as president. He had over 100 votes of “present” while an Illinois legislator. Unfortunately for America, the president doesn’t get to vote “present”.

  3. Carl Rodgers
    November 5, 2010

    Is it in the interest of the Republicans to cooperate with the Democrats with 2012 elections two years away ?
    I fear not ,due to internal pressure from the extreme right of the party ,the ever stronger and bolder lobbies and the ability to muddy the media waters of any kind of message given by President Obama.
    Not to mention the policy divide.
    They have to prepare their man for the 2012 election and the only way to guarantee this is to make Obama a lame duck.
    Churchill said;“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

  4. Kevin S. Smith
    November 5, 2010

    I think the organization that is our government has lost sight of effectiveness. In large part, they are no longer doing what they have been sent to Washington to do. Peter Drucker offered the most simple of effectiveness tests. 1.) Ask yourself what it is you are paid to do. 2.) Ask yourself how much of your time is spent doing it.

    I would suggest that many of our representatives in Washington would fail this test. Coming to a consensus is a bi-product of doing all of the other things correctly. It is the predictors of success that are not being effectively performed, and can leave no wonder why the end result (or lack thereof) occurs.

    Have politicians forgotten to ask the question “who is our customer, and what do they value?”. Their words say yes, but their results and behavior, in large part, say no. This is a problem, because as Drucker pointed out, Leadership can only be measured by one criteria…… results.

  5. Daniel Pacheco - (Bangalore)
    November 5, 2010

    Peter Drucker’s wisdom does not work in India. I have come to this conclusion after spending a year celebrating his centenary by giving talks to different people and organizations in Bangalore. I now know the reason why Peter Drucker gave a talk in Bangalore and never came back to India.
    The west with its direct communication is west and the east with it’s indirect communication is the east and the two shall never meet.
    In India if some one disagrees with you and there is a dissent they take it personally and think you disagree with them as an individual and they make no distinction between an opinion and a person.
    If you happen to come from a lower caste then you must not even think of the word dissent. If you do it you will be beaten and ostracized.
    I personally think all american businessmen who want to come to India with Obama to do business are wasting their time which could be better utilized reading Books like Caste and Tribes in India by Russel and Lal written in 1919 and learn how the British ruled India by making friends with business castes from Gujarat and Rajasthan and learn the Indian way of business and then come to conquer India like the British did.
    They should not waste their time reading Petr Drucker as his way does not work in india. I have come to this conclusion ofter year of being a Drucker fan and internalising his ideas.

    • Mike Grayson
      November 10, 2010


      I had a development team in India and experienced a great deal of frustration when I asked them to be creative. They feared that if they colored outside of the lines and I didn’t like it, they would lose their jobs. I am convinced that this is a result of the caste system. The people on the team were bright and likeable. But the effort failed because of this mindset. A similar phenomenon can be experienced when talking to a support person in India – they never go off script, even when they could take the initiative and solve the problem. So – I understand some of what you are saying.

      However, I don’t understand why you are saying the Drucker’s teachings don’t work in India. The principles like “The Seven Windows of Opportunity for Innovation and Entrepreneurship” work regardless of culture. China has successfully adopted much of what Drucker has taught. However, having presented that program to an international audience almost a year ago I can say that the case studies must come from the country and culture in which they are presented. The use of Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s in the 1950′s is likely to have little relevance to an Indian audience.

      • Daniel Pacheco
        May 7, 2011

        Peter Drucker seven windows of opportunity does not work in India because of the caste system in India.The caste system is all about status quo and resisting change. Only a business caste (Vsya ) can exploit the seven window of opportunity. If a lower caste (Sudra) ever thinks of opening one of those windows of opportunity and attempts to do so the window of opportunity will be closed. Hey it is all Karma ( fate , destiny) How can status quo be broken it will ruin the whole caste philosophy that has ensured stability for India for thousands of years. A Brahmin (priestly caste) or a Kshatriya (warrior caste) should not touch the seven windows of opportunity to make money as they are not the business caste. Come on guys think about it the caste system is about resisting change and maintaining status quo There are always three meaning in the vedas (holy books of the hindus) one is the stated meaning, one is the understood meaning and th third is the hidden meaning . GET AN INDIAN TO TALK ABOUT THE HIDDEN MEANING OF THE VEDAS and you will understand one of the mysteries of how to deal with Indians. Even if you tell them to colour outside the lines they will not do it as there may be a hidden meaning in what you said. He He He He he I hope you are now getting a better idea of understanding an Indian.

        • Fernando
          May 21, 2011

          Very True,,,Danny! Where is the next Seminar? All the very best!

  6. Alba Patricia Valencia
    November 7, 2010

    With a divided government, in where each faction gives the right answers. The management for progress will be slowed, because of good ideas and actions. They will need strength and the power of conviction.

  7. George L. Williams
    November 8, 2010

    Women and minorities know that the historic behavior pattern in relationships with white males involves impairment of their senses of hearing and sight. Race (and gender) interferes with their ability to hear and understand what is spoken to them by women and minorities. President Obama seems not to understand this facet of historic European racism. Perhaps this is because he was born to a white mother and raised partially outside the United States. The President often behaves like a “conciliator” who is seen by U.S. citizens as someone who avoids confrontation. In a nation that craves “John Wayne” behavior (aggressive, inconsiderate, and mean) such a President should be expected to have a tough time.

    In addition to sensory impairment, mental impairment in the form of irrational decision-making occurs. We see in poor whites voting the interest of better off whites while compounding their own economic decline.

    This deafness and blindness is not prevalent in all of our 50 states, as the last election shows, but it is dangerously present outside the traditional region of the deep south.

  8. George L. Williams
    November 9, 2010

    To Kevin Smith:

    Sadly, it is the U.S. voting public that is missing the point here. The politicians are doing EXACTLY what Peter would have them do. The paying customer is the LOBBYIST! The politicians are caught between a rock and a hard place — between the lobbyist and the voter.

  9. J. Brakensiek
    November 9, 2010

    In answering the question “Who is the customer, and what do they value?” the two political parties in the U.S. have previously focused on THEIR customers, those who are likely to provide votes for them. The customers for each political party are vastly different in their worldviews and expectations. In between are the equally large number of independents. They are the tiebreakers, and the ones who are responsible for last weeks Republican landslide in most of the country. And, it is the independents that both parties will have to focus on to convince them to be customers. Customers who are ignored are unhappy customers, as the elections results show.

    It appears that the two parties are becoming less divergent in governing philosophy, not more. Yet, the requirement of gaining independent voters for the 2012 election will require a much more pragmatic practice to gain independents support. Whichever party is successful in doing so is more likely to win the next election. As always in Washington, the focus is on gaining and wielding power, hopefully within a constitutional and lawful framework. Statesmanship-that balancing of ideas and mitigating of actions for the common welfare- was always rare and has virtually disappeared from the Washington scene. It has been replaced by partisanship and advocacy. We need to see a reappearance of statesmanship, and ideal and practice of “United we stand, divided we fall.”

  10. Mike Grayson
    November 10, 2010

    There is a woeful lack of “effective” decision making in Washington – regardless of party.

    They need to learn “The Elements of Effective Decision Making” as taught by Peter Drucker. If they followed his process, the decision making would dramatically improve over night. A challenge for the Drucker Institute and the Drucker Societies – to educate those in office.

    In answer to your posted question:
    I don’t think Washington is going to arrive at good ideas and solutions to problems systematically – as Drucker suggests. When lawmakers passed the healthcare legislation without really knowing what was in a 2,000 plus page document – how could that possibly be classified as good decision making? Most Americans recognized this action as a lack of competence and voted accordingly. I’m not convinced their replacements will do much better – but I can hope.

  11. You’re No Leader — At Least Not Without Practice | The Drucker Exchange
    October 3, 2011

    [...] As we’ve noted, Peter Drucker always stressed the importance of candor and (respectful) dissent among colleagues. He also stressed that few, if any, of us are leaders from birth. “Most leaders I’ve seen were neither born nor made,” Drucker wrote. “They were self-made. We need far too many leaders to depend only on the naturals.” Image credit: Robert Meganck [...]

  12. You’re No Leader — At Least Not Without Practice | The Drucker Exchange | Daily Blog by The Drucker Institute
    October 30, 2012

    [...] As we’ve noted, Peter Drucker always stressed the importance of candor and (respectful) dissent among colleagues. He also stressed that few, if any, of us are leaders from birth. “Most leaders I’ve seen were neither born nor made,” Drucker wrote. “They were self-made. We need far too many leaders to depend only on the naturals.” [...]


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