Congressional Gridlock = #LeadershipFail

“You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” –Howard Zinn

(You also don’t need to pick sides).

Image via Associated Press

Image via Associated Press

If there was any doubt something needs to change about how we run our national institutions, who we elect to office and how we as a people (not just “those guys” in office or on the other side of the aisle) function within these institutions… all of that doubt was wiped out early this morning.

This happens every so often, doesn’t it? The wake up call that gets us thinking because we realize there are real consequences to our actions and inactions, real people depend on the actions and inactions of others. We are reminded there is no not participating.

The words “social change” barely mean anything to me anymore, they’ve been used to mean so many different things, often for purposes having little to do with deep shifts in thinking and behavior. Then a day like today happens—there is a “government shutdown”—and all of a sudden social change means something again (sort of) because we are so clearly at a point of crisis/opportunity, and my God, we are in it together, aren’t we? There’s no getting away from each other.

Social change for who? For what? We know something needs to change—in government, business, philanthropy, media, our culture of who we include and exclude in national conversations, etc.—but in each case and on the whole, in what direction, for what larger purpose? Is there enough for all of us? Enough resources? Enough room? Is there only one right way? Can only some of us come along to that other side where if we only did Xeverything would be ok and work as it should?

A highly visible standoff like we’ve seen this week between Republicans and Democrats, the House and the Senate, the President and Congress—all this does is hold up a giant flashing sign that says something like, “We actually don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t know how to do our jobs right now, at times like these. We need help.”

The fact that Congress doesn’t know what it’s doing—that we as a people don’t know what we’re doing—doesn’t bother me. It’s the insistence right up until the breaking point that we do, that we are right. Whomever we are, that we are the ones who know the one right way forward out of the mess. This is what frustrates and saddens me. Because we clearly don’t know our way out of the mess, and there may very well be a few different possible ways forward. We might as well admit this as we go along, not only during times of crisis.

Inaction, whether it’s disengagement on the part of citizens or the gridlock we see so often in Congress or the standstill we’re seeing now is not the answer. Inaction so often is harmful, we need elected officials who can make decisions and work with others. But we also need a new ways working together and arriving at co-created decisions in the first place.

We don’t like not having the answer, and we really don’t like it when people in power or with great responsibility don’t have the answer. In his column for the New York Times, in which he called out the entire field of philanthropy, Peter Buffett, son of Warren Buffett and chairman of the NoVo Foundation, admitted he doesn’t have the answer either (in this case, on how/where to spend foundation money, or how to solve seemingly intractable problems). And people really didn’t like it. The Chronicle of Philanthropy did a roundup of responses, which is striking to read for a few reasons. All but one of the respondents included are male and by all accounts, white. Most are critical in tone, focusing on where Buffett went wrong or left something out instead of trying at all to respond to the big, uncomfortable question Buffett raised.

I think we are afraid that if we admit we don’t have the answer now, we’ll never have one later. But look at what we’re seeing in Congress. Insistence that there is one right answer assures the sides will not work together, will not test out solutions and be open to revising later. This approach has left Congress and the country totally and completely stuck.

In the short-term, our elected officials need to do their jobs, and as the saying goes, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.” Leadership requires decision-making.

If I do my job right as a young leader/writer, I’ll be a part of the group of citizens who figure out a way to bring some of these new ways of working and leading together to the fore so that in the long-term, we can move toward new ways of making important decisions together in this country.

Read more posts by Lex Schroeder.

About the Author

Lex Schroeder is a writer and speaker on gender equity, systems change, and the future of work. She is a Leadership Ambassador with Take The Lead and is based in NYC. She can be reached Follow her on Twitter@lexschroeder.