Rigid Leadership – Biden as Exemplar

Rigid Leadership – The leader and at least some followers are stiff and unyielding. Although they may be competent, they are unable or unwilling to adapt to new ideas, new information, or changing times.

When the summer was young, I wrote in this space that Joe Biden could become one of America’s great presidents. Before the summer was over, he proved me a poor prophet. He’s already made a tragic mistake, certain to shadow the rest of his presidency.  

During his first half year in office, Biden demonstrated he was decent and adroit. His character was a palpable relief after four years of a corrupt and mendacious predecessor. And his competence was amply in evidence, notably in his administration’s efficient distribution of virus vaccines, and in its smart management of a famously recalcitrant Congress. Biden’s many years in government seemed to have prepared him to rise to a series of daunting challenges.

But when it came to changing his mind on a position he had long held, Biden turned out rigid, unable to adapt to new ideas, new information, or changing times.

The italicized sentences at the start of this post are from my book, Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters.* In the book I identify seven different types of bad leadership, one of which is Rigid Leadership. In this case Biden and his team plowed ahead and implemented a decision he had long said he thought we should make – getting all American troops out of Afghanistan as fast as possible. This despite large swaths of the U. S. foreign policy establishment having come out clearly and consistently against the idea of abandoning the Afghans lock, stock, and barrel.

Biden was locked into the idea that the United States was trapped in a “forever war.” Again, it was an idea he had held since serving as Vice President to Barack Obama. And it was one to which he clung despite the situation in 2021 being demonstrably different from what it was five and ten years earlier. Times change. But on this issue, Biden proved himself unable to change along with the changing times. His mind was made up – that was that.

Biden’s failure to absorb the idea that in certain circumstances – as in Afghanistan – leaving a small military footprint works, however imperfectly, is already proving costly. These costs will rapidly rise and then they will rise some more. Moreover, they will be incurred not only abroad but at home – among them a stain on his presidency that might never be wiped out. An unforced error that in an instant became a crying shame. Literally.    

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*Harvard Business School Press, 2004, p. 75.

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