How to Avoid Another Government Shutdown

October 18, 2013

By: Shirli Kopelman, Scott DeRue


This post originally appeared on the Ross Blog as Ross Professors Explain How to Avoid Another Government Shutdown

The government shutdown is over, a deal reached, but was this brinksmanship avoidable? And how can we prevent it in the future?

U-M Ross Professors Scott DeRue and Shirli Kopelman, experts in the fields of leadership and negotiations, have a few ideas.

DeRue says the shutdown was a stark example of what happens when leaders lose sight of their organization’s purpose and goals. The purpose of Congress is to serve and represent the American people. But the leadership of both parties allowed that purpose to shift to protecting their own power, reputations, and jobs.

“This shift has two important effects,” says DeRue, professor of management and organizations and faculty director of the Ross Leadership Initiative. “First, it creates a ‘fixed pie’ mentality, where one party’s gain is the other party’s loss. Second, it creates conflict that becomes more about personal agendas and dislike for each other, as opposed to the constructive conflict of honest debate.”

It’s natural for both parties to have different agendas on how best to serve the country. But that healthy conflict can exist with Congress keeping a sense of purpose, DeRue says. That’s what must be rediscovered.

“It’s the leader’s job to ensure there’s a common goal,” he says. “Otherwise, personal goals trump collective goals.”

Kopelman, an expert in positive negotiations, says a different approach to negotiating can help prevent another impasse. She says short-sighted power games lead to standoffs, but a positive approach focuses on co-creating value and well-being.

“It’s a science and an art to be a positive negotiator,” says Kopelman, clinical assistant professor of management and organizations and core faculty with the Center for Positive Organizations. “Some people don’t move until they can see how it’s going to hurt them or their organization, so fast-forwarding and helping them see the long-term costs can help get them to the table. Especially if you can help them save face. It’s important to metaphorically offer them a ladder to come down from the high tree they have climbed and the positions they have declared. The process can begin at any time in any situation.”

Kopelman and DeRue are just part of the reason leadership development is a hallmark of a Ross education. They teach students in Ross graduate and undergraduage degree programs as well as business leaders in Executive Education.

Read more about how DeRue approaches leadership development including how he uses lessons from his climb atop Mount Everest in his teaching.

Watch a video of Kopelman talking about how to make the first move in negotiations without feeling anxious.

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