Groupthink or Deadlock

When Do Leaders Learn from Their Advisors?

By Paul A. Kowert

Subjects: Psychology
Series: SUNY series on the Presidency: Contemporary Issues
Paperback : 9780791452509, 275 pages, April 2002
Hardcover : 9780791452493, 275 pages, January 2002

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Table of contents


Tables and Figures


1. Introduction

Matching Advisors to Leaders
Does Leadership Really Matter?
What Is Learning?

2. Who Learns, and When?

Learning Style
Managing Advisors
A Theory of Leader-Group Relations

3. Eisenhower and Reagan: Comparing Learning Styles

The Eisenhower Administration


Learning Style


The Reagan Administration


Learning Style



4. Learning

Learning In an Open Administration


The Fall of Dien Bien Phu
Alaskan Statehood


Learning In a Closed Administration


The International Debt Shock
The Withdrawal from Lebanon



5. Groupthink

Balance of Payments Deficits

6. Deadlock

The Budget Deficit
The Iran-Contra Affair

7. Conclusion

The Politics of Advice
Why Learn?




Argues that too much advice can lead to policy deadlock depending on leadership style.


The danger of groupthink is now standard fare in leadership training programs and a widely accepted explanation, among political scientists, for policy-making fiascoes. Efforts to avoid groupthink, however, can lead to an even more serious problem—deadlock. Groupthink or Deadlock explores these dual problems in the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations and demonstrates how both presidents were capable of learning and consequently changing their policies, sometimes dramatically, but at the same time doing so in characteristically different ways. Kowert points to the need for leaders to organize their staff in a way that fits their learning and leadership style and allows them to negotiate a path between groupthink and deadlock.

Paul A. Kowert is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Florida International University, and coeditor of International Relations in a Constructed World.


"This book raises an important theoretical point that has not been well explored in the literature on presidential decision-making. Kowert has made a genuine contribution not only with his discussion of how 'open' leaders fare in closed groups, but how 'closed' leaders fare in open groups. " — John P. Burke, author of Presidential Transitions: From Politics to Practice

"This is a solid contribution to the well-established genre of case-based explorations of presidential decision-making. The author's pairing of Eisenhower and Reagan provides a new twist. I commend Kowert for tackling a theoretically rich research question. " — Brian D. Ripley, Mercyhurst College