It was George Orwell who first coined the term “groupthink” in his disturbing novel 1984. In this one word he captured the dangers and dysfunctions that can deform the thinking of a group. It would help us to apply this term to our lives.
Orwell intended “groupthink” to describe the hyper-conformity, manufactured consent, and deference to strong personalities that often permeate groups. Consensus forms out of compliance, passivity gives the appearance of unity, bullying is mistaken for leadership, and self-deception masquerades as conviction. In short, the group pummels its members into submission and calls it progress.
Orwell applied this meaning to totalitarian societies, but I want to apply it to you as a leader.
I’m concerned that most leaders engage in groupthink when they immerse themselves in a bland culture of leadership development. They read the popular books. They use the popular phrases. They watch videos of the same approved speakers everyone else is watching. They are devoted to soulless leadership conformity of a kind straight from the pages of 1984.
They talk about “out of the box” thinking but rarely permit a thought from outside the box. They only know what they are fed. They only know what has been pre-digested by the lords and masters of their profession, the stars who determine what is important and what may be done.
I’d like for you to use some mental dynamite and blow out the walls of how you think, what you read, who you listen to, and what ideas you ponder. I’d like for you to escape the groupthink that threatens to imprison you.
I led a large church for many years and during that time I read all the books that leaders of large churches are supposed to read. Most of my staff did the same. I remember that we breathlessly talked about the latest books or ideas in our field as though they were revelations from on high.
I grew weary of it. I found it thin. So I began reading the books that had always mentored me best—biographies of great leaders in history. I also watched more documentaries and listened to management and communication experts when I could.
Through it all, I became a better leader. I had outsider perspective. I thought on a larger scale. I stopped regurgitating the same thin thinking that I had once held so dear. Instead, I explored the mind of Churchill or Lincoln or Thatcher or Mandela or King. I let the hard-hitting management professor from MIT challenge me. It was inspiring, liberating, and fun.
There is information you need to master to lead in your field. Master it then, but don’t make that information the mainstay of your diet. Feed broadly. Let your mind and soul explore distant lands. Let foreign thinkers challenge you. Bust up the groupthink that constricts you and wants you to conform.
Great leaders have a little rebel in their souls. Don’t stifle your inner insurgent. Let him out once in a while.
That’s it. Have a great weekend.