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The Era of Compromise is Over

With the midterm elections safely behind them, elected officials now come to the most difficult part of their adventure—leading and making good on all of those campaign promises. An election is never an easy endeavor and the dirty little secret is that the real work begins after victory is declared. The challenge before the next Congress is no different from the challenges previous Congresses faced; the test will whether or not they are truly capable ofleading in a different way. If they don’t, they too might be facing unemployment in 2012.

With a chagrinned Obama and an emboldened Republican Party, the talk of “new leadership” and the need to “compromise” has dominated the headlines. Balancing the budget, scaling back health care and reducing the size of government all sound good on the surface, but no one is talking about the true impacts of these policies. More importantly, we must question whether our leaders are interested in developing solutions to these challenges or merely spewing rhetoric aimed at appeasing a highly partisan segment of the electorate who are looking be told simple solutions will get them to where they want to go.

Their apparent answer to our questions seems to be in their willingness to compromise. During compromise, no one gets what he or she wants. The conversation between Democrats and Republicans look like: “I have power in one area, you have it in another, I have interests groups to answer to and so do you, so let’s figure out a way to do something that moves us forward while catering to the demands of everyone who thinks they can exert power to get what they want.” This conversation is a recipe for never really addressing the issues our nation faces, and unfortunately Congress is rehearsing this same conversation as it prepares its agenda.

The era of compromise is over. To paraphrase Einstein, The significant problems we face will not be resolved using the same level of leadership that created them. Real change will not happen with our political leaders simply relying on power politics. Political leaders can chart a forward course by making the Leadership Choice to build consensus rather than compromise. Making the Leadership Choice here will move our political system beyond the art of the deal toward making true progress on the real, substantive issues that underlies our bankrupt policies and building consensus on how we can move forward together.

How do leaders build consensus? While the task may be challenging, the steps are really quite simple:

The Leadership Choice in Building Consensus:

1. Build Common Ground

2. Identify an Obtainable Goal

3. Identify the Current Challenge

4. Identify options for Achieving the Goal

5. Resolve the Cognitive Dissonance between Values and Goals

6. Identify a Strategy

7. Take Action

For each step allow all parties to do the following:

a. Clearly articulate core values

b. Listen to the values of others

c. Identify and establish shared values, goals, etc.

Because the process I laid out is common sense advice, it’s reasonable to assume that the current crop of elected officials know what to do to lead in a positive way, they just don’t do it. The next question is what will inspire our elected officials to actually engage in a process to improve our political system and if it is reasonable to expect them to ever lead in a different way? The answer to this question rests in our hands. Our political leaders have created the current political system through their behavior. They’ve identified the desired result as winning the election, and they have achieved their goal. We reinforce the political system they’ve created each time we respond to their posturing. If we want to create change in our political system, we must identify the real world change that we want to create, and articulate that we will no longer tolerate a political system that has anything besides creating positive Real World Results as its focus. We must demonstrate the great paradox of leadership, if you focus on the position of leadership results are never realized; if you focus on results, your leadership will always be in demand.

If the current elected officials are unwilling to reflect our desire for changing the tone of the political system from compromise to consensus, we will move forward by identifying and supporting the leaders who are interested in Real World Results. Our advice to aspiring political leaders:

– Disentangle your personal worth from your “public image.”

– Focus on the greater good of your community and country, not your career trajectory.

– Understand that success for all, brings success for each person

– Create and maintain effective systems to support the change process.

– Know when to step forward and lead and when to move on to other challenges after your skills have served their purpose.

At this point, I am unaware of an elected official who is exercising these values and heaven knows we can use more than one of them in Washington. A friend suggested recently that if President Obama really wanted to create the change he articulated during 2008, he would demonstrate his commitment to the above by NOT focusing on his re-election and instead commit himself to the change process. If he “disentangled” his re-election from the challenges before our country, perhaps he might get Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to focus on issues instead of Obama’s electoral defeat. Image what could be accomplished if solutions to issues were the focus and not political gain . . .

Someone has to step outside the vicious cycle of elected politics and ineffective leadership to demonstrate that not only can this type of leadership solve the challenges before us—it is the only way to do it.

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Kathleen Schafer

Love that phrase! I will be adding that to my lexicon . . . here is a good story that shows that elected officials can talk with the public about real issues . . . and that in being real win re-election. For I believe that leaders who ultimately take up the task of doing the “real” work are the ones who will be rewarded and not those that pander to politics . . .

Ryan Wins Over Voters With Blunt Talk On Spending Cuts USA Today reports from Racine, Wisconsin that the “local Republican congressman, Paul Ryan, campaigned for re-election by calling for reductions in the growth of Medicare and Social Security” –and yet he “won with 68% of the vote.” As President Obama and Congress “turn their attention…to balancing the budget, even sacred items such as retirement programs will be fair game — something Ryan tells his constituents regularly.”

Tom Melancon

I agree with your post. As a mediator, it is frustrating to see that politicians best solution seems to be compromise, and the result is that no one gets what they want. The key to successful negotation and mediation that results in a win for both sides is to ensure that parties are mediating in good faith. Here are some of the components of good faith negotiation: (1) Refraining from use of inflamatory language, interrupting, name calling or other communication choices that push peoples buttons, (2) Being willing to listen and keep an open mind, (3) Refrain from maintaining fixed positions, rather, focus on interests, (4) Be flexible enough to see that there is more than one way to see a problem and more than one way to solve a problem, (5) Be willing to consider something you’ve not considered as a solution before, and finally (6) Keep agreements. This might seem naive, but these are the things I ask any participant in mediation to do when I conduct an intake interview. The process isn’t perfect, but its good enough that our consortium ended up the last program year with an 89% settlement rate, mediating cases that were mostly from the Equal Employment Opportunity realm. It would require a radical shift in DC, a willingness for policicians to think of the good of the country before ambition or power or financial gain. I’m not holding my breath for things to change quickly, but I am optimistic about the future. Things have to change, and I hope mediators are involved in the solution.