Friday, January 11, 2019

Winston Churchill, Groupthink, and the Dardanelles

Source: Wikipedia
I'm reading Andrew Roberts' masterful biography of Winston Churchill right now.   I've discovered some terrific lessons in decision making.    For instance, the Dardanelles disaster in World War I offers a fascinating example of groupthink and overconfidence, as well as the risks when advocacy crowds out inquiry in a decision-making process.   Roberts describes a key War Council meeting on January 13, 1915: 

Because Churchill seemed to be giving the Admiralty's collective view, none of the politicians asked Fisher or Wilson for their thoughts, and they remained silent throughout the meeting.  It wsa therefore assumed that they were in favour, which they were not. "Neither made any remark and I certainly thought that they agreed," Churchill wrote later. "He was my chief," Fisher would say, "and it was silence or resignation."  

Unfortunately, Churchill did not recognize that silence does not equal consent.  Neither Churchill nor any of the other War Council members inquired as to the views of key military experts.   They did not invite more discussion and input, and certainly did not seek dissenting views.  Roberts writes, "A collective 'groupthink' permeated the meeting of 13 January, encouraging optimism and discouraging incisive questioning, a problem made all the worse by Fisher 's and Jackson's silence."  He derives his conclusion after quoting the conclusions from the Dardanelles Commission's official report about the military debacle: 

Mr. Churchill thought that he was correctly representing the collective views of the Admiralty experts.  But, without in any way wishing to impugn his good faith, it seems clear that he was carried away by his sanguine temperament and his firm belief in the success of the undertaking which he advocated... Mr. Churchill had obtained their support to a less extent than he himself imagined... Other members of the Council, and more especially the Chairman (Asquith), should have encouraged the experts to give their opinion, and indeed, shoud have insisted upon their doing so.

I highly recommend Webster's book, though I have to warn you that it approaches 1,000 pages in length.  However, I've found it to be an incredible enhancement to my understanding of leadership.  

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