Calamity in the Capitol

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By Rhonda Jaipaul-O’Garro, Steven Kapoloma, Jaime Killin and Issa Napon

shutdownOn October 1, 2013, the new fiscal year for the United States began, but Congress couldn’t agree on a spending deal in time. There was a huge divide between the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democratic-led Senate. House Republicans wanted a bill that included anti-Obamacare amendments, while Senate Democrats want a spending bill with no amendments attached. Thus a 16-day shutdown of the federal government ensued, which brought several major leadership concerns to the forefront.

Communication and Conflict Management:

During the government shutdown politicians became stuck in their own ideas and refused to take feedback or listen to any ideas contrary of their own or their party lines. This had a polarizing effect on the two political parties, making a compromise nearly impossible. Instead, both sides should have been more open to listening to the ideas of others.

Trust and Integrity:

Perhaps before the previous lesson can be put into practice the politicians should have learned to simply listen to one another without prejudice (believing anything said by a member of the other party was a lie). This also led to finger pointing just to save face, an attempt to blame others in order to avoid responsibility. Decisions are best made by a group of people that have a level of trust and respect toward each other, allowing collaboration and open discussion. This is clearly lacking in Washington.

There was a large amount of apathy and indecision, because many politicians feared an incorrect decision on their or their parties’ part would be frowned upon by constituents they chose instead to do nothing at all, which in some ways placed the blame on everyone instead of a select few. Though the politicians needed to be cautious about how they proceeded they also needed to make a decision.

Solution Mindedness vs. Finger-Pointing/ Blame Game Philosophy:

Instead of working as individuals to come up with creative solutions, Congress largely just worked as two divided groups. It is likely that individuals from parties on both sides who could have made suggestions that would have allowed for a compromise did not speak up because of the strong party lines separating the two groups.

Fairness and Modeling Behaviors:

One of the major media criticisms of Congress following the shutdown was that while Congress failed to meet their goals and do their job they were affecting the livelihood of many people who would not be able to work while congress was still getting paid. This was a definite hit to congress’ credibility.

Servant Leadership:

The government shutdown and the lack of fairness that surrounded it made it clear that government officials were focused on the wrong things. It gave the American people the impression that politicians were putting party loyalty and their ambitions for re-election before the very constituents that elected them. This is a situation where leaders made the situation about themselves, and refused to consider the people they were elected to lead. When elected to their positions, they were expected to put their individual interests aside and act as a leader and they were unable to do so. They placed self-serving interests above the interest of the people and the result was to plunge the nation into a state of instability, unproductivity and low morale.

John Maxwell proposes a theory of the 360 Degree leader, who must be proficient in:

  • Leading down: interacting with subordinates, observing, listening and transferring vision and modeling behavior.
  • Leading up: stepping up and being a go-to player, influencing another leader, being willing to do what others won’t, while knowing when to push forward and when to back off.
  • Leading across: helping peers achieve positive results, letting the best idea win, and garnering mutual respect, developing and maintaining credibility, and continually exerting influence.

In the case of the recent government shutdown, there was a critical need for leaders in the Capitol to “lead up”, “lead across” and “lead down” in response to the looming impasse challenge facing them. The evaluation of their individual and collective actions show a phenomenal failure to meet their leadership obligations on four major planes: being aware of the potential crisis, being proactive in planning, decision making and crisis mitigation through effective communication and collaboration across the aisles, recognizing their accountability and being responsible stewards of the national interest instead of personal and party interests. This led to a 16 day government shutdown that furloughed many government employees and shut down multiple government agencies.

Some key players in the “Calamity in the Capitol”

boehner“The Coach”: Speaker John Boehner – Republican

Quotable Shutdown Quote: “We fought the good fight, we just didn’t win”



“The Buffalo”: Sen. Ted Cruz – Republican

Quotable Shutdown Quote: “And the reason we had a government shutdown is President Obama and the Democrats said ‘we will not negotiate and we will not compromise.'”



“The Realistic”: Sen Mitch McConnell – Republican

Quotable Shutdown Quote: “The American people expect us to come together and figure out how to solve this problem and sooner or later, we’re going to do that.”


reid“The Hard-Nosed”: Sen. Harry Reid – Democrat

Quotable Shutdown Quote: “You know with a bully you cannot let them slap you around, because they slap you around today, they slap you five or six times tomorrow. We are not going to be bullied.”


obama“The Quiet Force”: President Barack Obama – Democrat

Quotable Shutdown Quote: “We’re not going to do this under the threat of blowing up the entire economy. I will not negotiate over Congress’ responsibility to pay the bills that have already been racked up. Voting for the Treasury to pay America’s bills is not a concession to me. That’s not doing me a favor, that’s simply carrying out the solemn responsibilities that come with holding office.”