“I Won’t Back Down”?: Complexity and Courage in Organizational Leader Decision-Making |

"I Won't Back Down"?: Complexity and Courage in Organizational Leader Decision-Making


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, both “groupthink” and lab research have highlighted ways that 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” problem-solving process.  Some of what we found surprised us. Most executives identified decisions that were not informationally complex but instead mainly required courage to make. In this context, the vigilant problem-solving paradigm might be more problematic than the literature suggests. Here, a leader may above all need strong personal character, perhaps bolstered by resolve provided by advisors who offer support rather than more information.


Prof Steven Kelman, Weatherhead Professor of Public Management, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University & Editor, International Public Management Journal

Thursday, 10 April 2014
12:15 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-5,
Manasseh Meyer,
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy,
469C Bukit Timah Road,
Singapore 259772

Seats are limited and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Kindly register your interest in attending online.

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