Why Do We Wait for A Crisis?

The current brouhaha over the impending Fiscal Cliff is yet another example of a national culture that waits for crisis before taking action. The irony in this current example is that our political leaders actually created the cliff to force themselves to address this complex economic issue. In other words, because they couldn’t work together to craft a solution to our growing budget demands and dwindling revenue stream they developed a plan is the worst of both worlds to motivate themselves and each other to find a better strategy—or else!

If there is one behavior that is completely debilitating when it comes to both personal and organizational leadership it is postponing the inevitable—and having to develop creative solutions under the pressure of crisis is never an optimal scenario. While the pressure to do something to avoid complete disaster is compelling to finally move forward, the quality of the progress is dubious at best.

So how do leaders inspire action before the point of crisis?

Vision, communication, action and tenacity are the key ingredients for leadership that creates solutions to not only avoid crisis, rather to head-off the problems and incredible waste a crisis creates:

  • Vision to see the problems and, more importantly, the roadmap to a solution
  • Communication with others including those impacted by the issue to help them understand the situation and develop their understanding and leadership
  • Action to move everyone toward solutions, seeing it and talking about it are not enough—action is essential
  • The tenacity to keep focused on the issue even when others refuse to deal with it

Ultimately each of these issues comes down to those who are impacted by needing to become a part of the solution—and that ignoring a problem doesn’t mean it will go away. It is easy to avoid difficult situation if it is not impacting you directly AND the moment it does and it isn’t working the way you want, voila crisis!

Just ask Long Island Utility customers how they felt after Hurricane Sandy revealed gross mismanagement, or those swept away in the recent banking and mortgage-lending crisis. How many people knew there was something wrong and remained silent?

Which brings us back to Congress and the crisis du jour. While we look at our elected leaders with a deep sigh of frustration at the inability to create solutions ahead of the curve, we must also look at ourselves. Why do we keep electing people to office who have no intention of governing only politicking? Why it is so important to hoard every cent we earn without an understanding of the collective good that comes from living in a society that provides such immense public good? And what role can each one of us play in making that collective good as efficient and effective as it can be in the communities where we live and work?

We can’t expect anything of our elected officials that we ourselves are unwilling to do. Perhaps as we head toward this fiscal cliff we can ask ourselves this question:

What can I do to shift my addiction to crisis as the precursor to change?

If we the people can begin changing the way we approach our lives, then we will create an example for our elected leaders—and one that is long past due in learning.

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David B. Grinberg

Nice post and good points, Kathleen.

However, I would not necessarily say that we have “a national culture that waits for crisis before taking action.” Many leaders in the public and private sectors outside of Washington are innovative and practice proactive prevention for crisis management.

In fact, there are state and local governments nationwide that proactively work in a bi-partisan manner to balance their budgets and/or create surpluses while effectively serving the citizens of their respective jurisdictions. Ditto for most of the general public when it comes to personal fiscal responsibility per family budgets and proactive planning for crisis prevention.

The problem here is a dysfunctional U.S. Congress in which money trumps integrity. As you know, most powerful lobbyists have lawmakers in their back pockets. We elect members of Congress who may have sincere integrity and political fortitude at the outset from the grassroots level. Yet once they arrive in the nation’s capital, they become engulfed by an arguably corrupt political culture of wheeling and dealing to fund their next campaign — which keeps escalating in cost.

Most Congressmen and women, especially in the House, must start raising huge sums of money toward re-election as soon as they are sworn in. Thus getting money out of politics may be the most potent fix for this perennial problem. That would mean emulating the political systems of some of our friends in Europe — total public campaign financing and free/equal air time for all candidates.

Until we get money out of politics and level the financial playing field in Washington, nothing will really change. Rather, the situation will likely just get worse, to our collective dismay.