Groupthink is a Leader's Worst Nightmare

Leaders are usually charismatic, confident and unwavering, but there is one phenomenon that is the bane of leaders everywhere. It is called groupthink, a phenomenon in which the need for harmony and unity becomes so important that people just give in to each other's choices and ideas without properly thinking if it is the best choice of action. Groupthink is a leader's worst nightmare. Here's why.

In a study by Irving Janis in his work "Victims of Groupthink: Psychological Study of foreign policy decisions and fiascos", he has stated that there are eight symptoms of groupthink in which four are particularly harmful to whoever calls themselves leader. They are:

  • Self-censorship,
  • Members stopping others from the information they deem problematic,
  • Silence being viewed as positive and
  • Direct pressure to whoever questions the group

Why is it Bad?

why groupthink is bad

One of a leader's main roles in a group would be that of an arbiter, one who would discern facts and opinions and make the final decision. A leader is usually expected to begin the group discussion by pointing the group towards a certain direction and listening to the opinions and ideas of the group in order to discern what would be the best choice. Groupthink gets in the way of this key role as it forces uniformity, harmony and silence on the members of the group.

You'll Be Left in the Dark, With One Choice

you will left with only one choice

During groupthink, members of the group may keep silent due to bullying of their colleagues. They will stay silent, unable to actually share their opinions and thoughts on whatever is being discussed. And this is where groupthink becomes the worst thing you could possibly experience as a group leader. As members of the group become silent, they choose to hide their thoughts and others choose what information is suitable to be relayed to you, what they believe not to be too controversial or schismatic within the group.

groupthink outcomes

You may end up with little to no usable information at all. Your group has not argued, not commented, not reacted and therefore the decision you make will be lacking proper scrutiny as well as the possible opinions of the silent members of the group. A consensus probably has not been made but it may appear to you as it had been, and even if you have noticed that something is a bit off, you will still be forced to make that decision as it is the only choice and seems to be "the best choice".

As a leader, you cannot allow groupthink to prevail. Encourage a healthy discussion yet, try to avoid getting the discussion too heated. Helping your group come up with decisions, inserting information and contributing where you can, are all good steps. Whatever your plan of action would be, at least you now know that groupthink is really bad news for leaders and should be avoided at all costs.

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