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The Orderly Transition of Power

In working with our vendor, The Greater Wilmington Business Journal, EASI•Consult®, and journal staff hold a planning meeting every three months to plan the subjects we are going to write about in the next three issues.

Although we are planning well in advance, we try to be topical but also flexible enough that we can easily move things around to accommodate unexpected current events or issues.

During one such meeting last week, a suggestion was made that we write a “post-election” piece. My first feeling was, in a word, revulsion.  I have already heard enough political attack ads – from both parties – to last a lifetime.

But I then stepped back from my initial reaction for a minute and reason took over, and I had another thought – one of the great things about this country is that after all the campaigning, commercials and debates and once votes are cast and winners declared, there comes an orderly transition of power.

This election has been one of the most contentious and polarizing in our nation’s history. To be clear, I am writing this column on Oct. 31, so I don’t know who won and who lost, so I’m not here to comment on the outcomes.  Because the bigger issue is that whoever wins will have some repair work ahead to bring our country together again. Our next president will need to reach out to both sides of the aisle to forge a coalition of people from all parties, ages, genders, ideologies and ethnicities.

It’s a daunting task, to say the least. But the United States is better than the polarizations we have been experiencing.

Is unity impossible? I don’t think so.

So how do we get there?

One possible solution is to do something akin to Abraham Lincoln’s approach when he became president. That approach is best described in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals.

In this case, Lincoln (a Republican) appointed former adversaries in the Republican Party to different Cabinet positions. It is not unusual for a few Cabinet appointees from one administration to agree to stay on and serve under a president from an opposing party.

One snag is there is not really one Republican Party or one Democratic Party but instead several factions within each. A coalition representing each of these factions would have to be created, along with a process to determine how to allocate positions, and another to determine how the newly elected president would vet and accept candidates.

Someone who influenced my thinking about constructive conflict was Morton Deutsch, whose course on conflict resolution I took in the 1970s while he was teaching at Columbia University.

He maintains in his book, Constructive Conflict Resolution, that there are four propositions generally accepted across the field of conflict studies.

  1. Parties to conflicts usually have a mixture of cooperative and competitive motives.
  2. Conflict may be positive and productive or negative and destructive. The goal is to make conflicts productive, not to eliminate all conflict.
  3. Cooperative or competitive interests each yield different processes of conflict resolution.
  4. Deutsch explains, “The relative strengths of the cooperative and competitive process within the conflicting parties, and how they vary during the course of a conflict, will be major determinants of the nature of the conflict process and of whether the outcomes of the conflict are likely to be constructive or destructive for the conflicting parties.”

Unlike Lincoln’s approach, the modern-day coalition would need to apply to the Legislative Branch, as well. Certain roles – Speaker of the House and Majority Leader – are determined by the majority party. To avoid stalemates, support from the other side of the aisle would be needed.

These appointments would need to be made with the understanding that the person would represent his or her party first but also be committed to a solution that both parties could support. The inability to compromise would result in the person receiving a motion of no confidence, similar to the parliamentary procedure that essentially allows elected officials to demonstrate to the head of state that they no longer have confidence in the government or its top leaders.

All appointees to the Cabinet and committee and party roles at the legislative level would need to be trained in conflict resolution. Deutsch trainees would be made available to participate in Cabinet and other legislative activities.

The ultimate goal throughout any of these activities is to get to “Yes.” Stalemate is not an option. Satisficing or getting to the best possible solution for all parties – major and faction – is the only acceptable result.

It may sound utopian, and it will require tremendous, patience, listening, flexibility, willingness to explore unconventional options and, simply put, a lot of hard work. But is that too much to expect from our elected and appointed officials?

Dave Hoff is the chief operation officer and executive vice president for leadership development at EASI•Consult®. EASI·Consult® works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI•Consult® specialties include individual assessment, online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI•Consult®, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.

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