President Donald Trump is well known for his, “you’re fired”, on ABC’s Apprentice, so it should be no surprise that in his first year being President, there have been dozens of firings and resignations within his administration (Bump, 2018). Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe it means that he does not tolerate low quality work. Maybe this is a bad thing. Or maybe it means that he does not like to hear opinions that differ from his. If this is the case, when one surrounds themselves with people who are “yes-men” or people who generally agree, they start to form a cohesive unit which can lead to groupthink.
Is groupthink a negative thing though? Well, groupthink is a mode of thinking that a cohesive group engages in where the group members lose their realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action because of their desire for unanimity (Janis, 1983). Decide for yourself if this is negative to occur within a president’s administration. My answer would be yes, groupthink is negative.
Being so far removed from the presidency, I cannot assume that groupthink is occurring. What I will do though is recommend some tips backed by research which would apply to any cohesive group, including any presidential administration to include future administrations. But first lets look at the symptoms of groupthink.
According to research, the symptoms of group think are:
1. Illusion of Invulnerability
2. Belief in Inherent Morality of the Group
3. Collective Rationalizations
4. Stereotypes of Out-GroupsType
6. Illusion of Unanimity
7. Direct Pressure on Dissenters
(Janis, 1983, p. 257)
Are these symptoms occurring with President Trump’s administration? Only President Trump and his administration can answer this question. Hopefully, the answer is no. And hopefully, there is enough self-awareness there to answer this question honestly. If the answer is yes, or even if it is no, these tips can prevent groupthink from occurring now or in the future.
- “Group leader should assign role of critical evaluator to each member.
- Leader should be impartial and not state preferences prior to discussion.
- Organization should set up independent groups to work on the same problem to compare possible solutions.
- Group should occasionally break into subgroups to work on the problem.
- Each group member should discuss group decisions with a trusted associate.
- Outside experts should be invited to group meetings to challenge group views.
- At least one member should be assigned the role of ‘devil’s advocate’.
- Group should survey rival group/competition’s warning signals.
- After preliminary decision, group should have a second-chance meeting.” (PSU, n.d.)
I have to believe that President Trump is capable and willing to implement these recommendations to prevent groupthink from occurring within his inner circle and administration. Also, I would like to believe that future presidents will do so as well. Let us follow the lead of Abraham Lincoln, and his willingness to practice many of these tips that prevent groupthink.
“Lincoln understood the importance, as one delegate put it, of integrating “all the elements of the Republican party—including the impracticable, the Pharisees, the better-than-thou declaimers, the long-haired men and the short-haired women.”
― Doris Kearns Goodwin,
“This, then, is a story of Lincoln’s political genius revealed through his extraordinary array of personal qualities that enabled him to form friendships with men who had previously opposed him; to repair injured feelings that, left untended, might have escalated into permanent hostility; to assume responsibility for the failures of subordinates; to share credit with ease; and to learn from mistakes. He possessed an acute understanding of the sources of power inherent in the presidency, an unparalleled ability to keep his governing coalition intact, a tough-minded appreciation of the need to protect his presidential prerogatives, and a masterful sense of timing.”
― Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Janis, I. L., (1983). Groupthink: Psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Bump, P. (2018). Has Trump actually fired anyone as president?. Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/03/19/has-trump-actually-fired-anyone-as-president/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a7f2d1610923
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. (2006). Team of rivals : the political genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York :Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. Retrieved from: https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2861004-team-of-rivals-the-political-genius-of-abraham-lincoln
The Pennsylvania State University(PSU) (n.d.). Lesson 11 Preventing Groupthink. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1896721/pages/l13-arnauds-2010-definition?module_item_id=23792073