Life is Voluntary – Leading by Committee

By Henry Piarrot
“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” – Harry S. Truman
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the “Super Committee,” held its first meeting on September 8, which was focused primarily on setting the rules under which the committee will operate. That initial meeting mostly presented an opportunity for lawmakers to make statements, which is something politicians have little trouble doing.  On the other hand, actually accomplishing their goal is another matter.
As of now, the leaderless bipartisan congressional panel is unable to meet its deadline to reduce the nation’s debt.  That may change, but the issue and any possible solutions will definitely be moved ahead to the 2012 election season and beyond.  It really should be no surprise to any of us, as leadership by committee has never been effective for making tough decisions.    In reality, the creation of this committee was little more than an attempt by our leaders to personally avoid making decisions that not all Americans will be pleased with, as it is impossible to be all things to all people.  Winning the election at all costs has long trumped making tough decisions that some may criticize.
  Committees are useful tools for gathering information and discussing possibilities.  They are not designed to replace the accountability of leaders that have been appointed or elected to responsible positions.  Once the committee has done its work and makes a presentation, the leader or leaders make the decision.  It is not complicated.
I began this column with Harry Truman, because he understood as President, “The buck stops here!”  Our leaders have become so worried about what the popular thing to do is, that they have relinquished all responsibility for doing what may actually be right.
Real executives know that strong committees and teams are necessary in effective organizations and there are many benefits when groups are used at the right time for the right reasons.  Useful committees are excellent for addressing needed innovation, offering creative solutions to problems, general brainstorming, completing defined projects and work well as counterweights to provide intellectual balance.  However, too much reliance on committees can and usually do become debilitating.
No organization that has positively changed the world with leadership by committee.  Actual leadership is multi-faceted, but in the end it boils down to someone making difficult decisions, becoming the face for those decisions and being personally accountable for the results.
Anyone who has any real experience in business knows that leadership by committee is an oxymoron.  An effective organization or government that is fated to accomplish great things will be led by one strong and driven leader.  The committee is a tool, but can never replace the accountability of a leader that is responsible for the final decision.
As a common rule, every executive function should be the appointed duty of an individual and it should be apparent to all who is responsible, for responsibility is useless when nobody knows who is ultimately liable.
Historically, White House councils were debating matches in which ideas emerge from the passionate exchanges of the competing contributors.  But the process has seemed to digress to the point that the council simply centers on the president.  As soon as someone attracts his favor, the rest soon become more interested in earning the leader’s praise than presenting credible alternatives.
America needs real leadership as we stand before this important historic crossroad.  As excellent constituents, let’s take the time to listen past the slogans and embrace the substance of a leader that has the skills and vision to steer our ship of state.  Our children are counting on us to get it right this time.
Henry Piarrot is a Sevier County resident on assignment in Nashville.  Please send all story recommendations to