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Why Leaders Play Chicken

| June 16, 2011

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Reading “Why Leaders Play Chicken” comes to us via the HBR Blog Network and is from the pen of Ron Ashkenas.  Ashkenas is managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and author of the recent book, Simply Effective.

In this piece, Ashkenas reminds us of the game of chicken that most of us played when we were children.  It was a foolish, immature way of showing who had the most guts, the most nerve, and the most will-power.  And, the winner became the respected dominant leader of the group.

Unfortunately, we did not abandon this game when we moved from childhood to adulthood.  We continue to see it played out in both private and public circles, always diminishing leadership and leading to sub-optimal solutions.  The author says this bluntly.  “Without a spirit of compromise and willingness to engage in collaborative dialogue, it is difficult for leaders and their teams to explore the full range of options and to be creative about alternate approaches.  Instead of innovative solutions, we end up with negotiated bargains that often just defer many of the tough disagreements until some unidentified time in the future.”

And, he isn’t just talking about what has been going on in Washington for the past few weeks.  We have to look no further than our own teams, our organization, our campus to find the game of chicken being played with enthusiasm and energy.  

So, when you find yourself getting ready to play this game, stop, take a deep breadth, and engage in some open and creative problem solving.  


.  .  .  .     jim