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Brinkmanship – A Lesson for All

You’ve seen this term tossed around, extensively, thanks to the Debt-Ceiling debate.

For absolute clarity, I went to the always friendly and readily accessible source, Wikipedia, and it offered this insight:

Brinkmanship is the practice of pushing dangerous events to the verge of disaster to achieve the most advantageous outcome.  This maneuver of pushing a situation with the opponent to the brink succeeds by forcing the opponent to back down and make concessions.


For some reason, I don’t usually see those underlined phrases as principles espoused by leadership experts.  This approach is, quite literally, about beating your opponent into submission.  It’s pure level 2 (catabolic) energy -- to borrow from the Energy Leadership lexicon for a moment.

While, like some catabolic energy, it can achieve a result, we need to consider at what cost.

Consider these questions:

•    What pathway does this create to foster collaboration?
•    What example (or precedent) does this set for others to follow?
•    What’s the likely response you'll receive from others?
•    How does any of what has transpired inspire a nation to come together?
•    What was the real goal of this debate?

Our communities, our nation, and our world are begging for collaboration, for help, to stand united and not divided.

The above would simply say the goal of a debate is to win.  I’d look for a new goal.  In my opinion, debates are, by and large, invaluable for an expression of divergent ideas that push each party past their comfort zones and points of view  -- the goal being the expansion of ideas to ensure the discovery of new points of view and the creation of new alternatives, which are greater than any one individual could have seen from the start.

The result of a debate may or may not be a “win” in a traditional sense; however, the manner in which a debate is conducted can demonstrate leadership and partnership, and pave the way to collaboration.

Stepping away from the political arena, rarely do we find that after a good, healthy debate, can we declare victory and move on with our plans without the other person involved.  Whether the other people at the table (in the debate) won or lost, or are in the majority or the minority, simply doesn't matter.  In the business arena, as in life, we move forward together.  And that’s pretty hard to do when you take an issue to the brink in order to force your opponent to back down and make concessions.

The next time you're debating how to approach a challenging situation, consider the real goal – meaning what the collective group is trying to achieve, NOT simply HOW one side wants it done.  Consider how all sides may need to work together to take action once a course has been charted.  Consider that all sides might just be adding new perspectives and viewpoints. 

And, consider the example that you want to set, as a leader, for all those involved–on both sides of the table.