Leaders Are Not Alone: Advisors and Bureaucracies

Leaders Are Not Alone: Advisors and Bureaucracies

Leaders Are Not Alone: The Role of Advisors and Bureaucracies


Advisors and Bureaucracies


Decision Making Groups:

Decision making groups may be of vastly different sizes and bear different names—junta, cabinet, coalition, parliament, etc.—but all make decisions in concert. That does not mean that Truman’s assessment was wrong. He did make the important decisions that shaped the latter days of World War II and the immediate post war period. More generally, American presidents do have the ultimate responsibility for foreign policy decisions. This is not true in all countries and decision making situations, as the Argentinean example shows. Whether one person or a collective of multiple individuals or even multiple organizations is responsible for foreign policy decision making depends on the structure of the institutions of a specific society’s government.

Foreign Policy Decisions:

An ultimate decision unit defines the person or the group who are in a position not only to make a foreign policy decision but also to prevent any other entity within the government from explicitly reversing that decision. Especially important with regard to the first element of this decision is that the person or group can use the resources of the government, such as its military, to enforce their decision.

In sum, determining who has the ultimate power to decide is not simply a function of the type of government but depends on identifying whether a single individual or a group has the ultimate authority to make a foreign policy decision. Making such a determination depends on substantive knowledge about the government in question.

Leader’s Personality:

A leader’s personality is likely to affect how she or he organizes the executive. Some leaders gain insight from hearing their advisors debate issues in their presence, while others like to ponder the policy options their advisors provide to them in solitude. Some leaders are intent that their preferences shape policy, whereas others want policy choices to reflect a consensus among various viewpoints. Leaders are more likely to actively seek out information when they feel knowledgeable about (and comfortable with) foreign affairs and when they trust the bureaucracy.

In sum, there are many aspects of a leader’s personality that influence how that leader treats information—and how much information she or he requires. This has implications for the organization of an effective advisory system.

What is the Presidential System?

In a presidential system of government, for instance, the executive branch of government is separate from the legislative branch. The president is elected independently and does not owe her or his position to the support of the legislature, although a troubled relationship with the legislature can render policy making difficult. In a presidential system, the president usually has substantial leeway in organizing the executive to suit her or his decision making style, just as she or he has great autonomy in the selection of her or his advisors.

What is the Parliamentary System?

In a parliamentary system, on the other hand, the prime minister owes her or his position directly to the support of the legislature. If the legislature withdraws its support, for instance through a vote of no confidence, the prime minister is forced to resign. In a parliamentary system, a single individual determines the composition of the executive, depending in part on the electoral system of the country.

A prime minister may exercise somewhat greater influence over the composition of government and the advisory system. In cases where governments are consist of several political parties, such as in coalition cabinet government, the advisory system as a whole is less likely to be structured to suit a single personality.

What is a Cabinet Government?

A cabinet government is a group of ministers who jointly constitute the executive of a country.

What is a Collective Responsibility?

They usually have collective responsibility, which means that each minister is expected to publicly support all cabinet decisions. Personal disagreements with collective decisions may not be voiced publicly.

What is a Coalition?

When the cabinet is made up of a coalition of political parties, meaning that two or more political parties jointly form the government, the collective responsibility for political decision making is borne by ministers who are affiliated with different political parties and have different political views and priorities. The interactions of coalition governments.


The Government Bureaucracy

A thread that runs through the discussion of the organizational structure of the advisory system is that inaccurate, incomplete, and biased information makes its way through such policy making bodies.  That does not mean that distortions are deliberate efforts to misinform. No matter how well the advisory system works, it remains a political system. Advisors have their own perspectives on the world, as well as their own interests and ambitions.

Conversely, members of the permanent bureaucracy are not necessarily antagonistic to the leaders’ political agenda.  Each of the three approaches to organizing the advisory system addresses these issues in its own way.

What is the difference between Normative Model of Rationality and the Formalistic Approach?

Both the normative model of rationality and the formalistic approach to the advisory system emphasize finding the “best” solution on the basis of thorough analysis of the problem and the available policy options. Both downplay the role of politics in decision making.

Neither is intended to describe the actual practice of policy making. Instead, the normative model of rationality outlines how policy ought to be made, whereas the formalistic approach organizes the relationships between the various individuals who are employed as members of the leader’s advisory system.

Describe the Rational Policy Model?

The rational policy model might provide a fairly accurate description of how foreign policy is made. Fundamental to the analysis is the desire to serve the state’s interests.

This rational policy model does not take into account the possibility that information could become distorted in a complex advisory system made up of many individuals, offices, and agencies. Neither does it take into account that identifying the national interest is not necessarily straightforward.

Give Two Alternative Descriptions of the Decision Making Process?

Two alternative descriptions are the organizational process model and the bureaucratic politics model.

Organizational Process Model:

The organizational process model envisions the government as a collection of organizations, centrally coordinated at the top.

  • Organizations respond to such situations by adapting rather than reinventing their standard operating procedures.
  • Adaptation consists of small and incremental changes to standard procedures.
  • Inadequate policy responses do not result from a failure to objectively evaluate the risks and benefits associated with various options, but from the inertia of established organizations.

Bureaucratic Politics Model

The bureaucratic politics model focuses on the role of individuals within governmental organizations. Individual advisors within the government occupy specific roles within it:

  1. They lead, or work within, a specific agency or department. Each agency and department has its own mandate.
  2. Advisors are also placed at a specific location within the hierarchical structure of that agency or department.


Colleagues and Competitors

Advisors are both colleagues and competitors. The collegial style, on the other hand, seeks to foster collegial interaction while acknowledging the multiplicity of viewpoints. The formalistic style pushes competition and conflict away from the tip of the policy making iceberg. The interactions consists of four main interaction patterns: bargaining, concurrence, deadlock, and persuasion.

Describe the Pattern of Bargaining?

The bureaucratic politics model specifically mentions bargaining, which implies that the decision making process involves give-and-take and that the preferences of any one policy maker never fully shape the decision but often partially do so. This suggests some form of compromise as the likely result of the bargaining process.

A compromise would suggest an integrative solution, defined as a result that represents the preferences of all members of the group, albeit modified to some degree. This may be easier to achieve in smaller groups than in larger ones.

The former are much more likely to share assumptions about the core values of the government. In larger groups, bargaining can easily lead to a subset solution, in which one faction’s ideas end up dominating the preferences of other members or factions within the group. This situation can emerge in small groups as well, especially if the members of the group are of unequal status.

In larger groups, the subset solution could favor smaller as well as larger factions, depending on the politics surrounding the specific issue at hand. In either case, the members or factions that emerge on the losing end of the bargaining process must at the very least acquiesce in the group’s decision.

Describe the Pattern of Concurrence?

When such acquiescence emerges quickly and without much debate, the decision process is more accurately characterizes the concurrence.

Instead, the decision makers quickly settle on an option they jointly perceive as a reasonable solution. This can happen for three reasons: One, there may be a dominant solution. This means that only one option is credible.

Two, it is possible that the policy makers satisfied  the first option that met their threshold of acceptability. Three, concurrence is the evidence of groupthink, or the premature closure of the search for options.

What is the problem of Groupthink?

The problem with groupthink is not just that there is little or no consideration of alternatives. The primary problem is that the decision makers fail to critically examine their problem representations and the option(s) before them.

Describe the Pattern of Deadlock?

On the opposite end of reaching agreement too readily is the failure to achieve any agreement at all.

The leader selects these individuals to suit her or his worldview, policy preferences, and decision making style.

When coalition cabinets are truly deadlocked, this may result in the resignation of a minister.

What is the difference between Persuasion and Subset Solution?

The difference between persuasion and a subset solution is that the latter does not require that the persuader have fully convinced his or her colleagues, only that he or she have achieved sufficient agreement among them that they are willing to go along with the proposal. Instead, the preferences of one member or a subgroup become dominant. Hence, a subset solution can connote either a partial compromise or partial persuasion.

What are the Strategies of Influence?

There are a variety of strategies a decision maker can employ to improve their chances to significantly influence the decision. Such strategies consists of three groups:

(1) efforts to influence the composition of the decision making group so as to reduce the impact of opposing viewpoints;

(2) efforts to influence the beginning stages of the decision process, such as the framing of an issue;

(3) efforts to manipulate the dynamics of interpersonal interaction within the group.

What are the tactics might decision makers use to improve their chances to influence the decision?

  1. Group composition. Policy makers sometimes try to influence the composition of the decision making group.
  2. Framing. Efforts to influence how an issue is  effective at the early stages of a decision making process. Individual decision makers are likely to frame problems each in their own distinctive way.
  3. Interpersonal relationships. In addition to manipulating who participates and how the problem is framed, policy makers are likely to use a variety of tactics to influence how they and others in the group are perceived.

Describe the Small Group?

The use of such tactics shapes the decision process in the small group. Policy makers user other strategies as they seek to influence the decision process. The process consists of bargaining, concurrence, deadlock, or persuasion will depend on the tactics group members use to influence one another and how those tactics combine to produce the outcome.

A different situation is in parliamentary governments where coalition cabinets are common. Decision making has a more collective quality. This does not mean that the dynamics of advisory systems, bureaucracies, and political manipulation are irrelevant. It is to the dynamics of such groups that we turn in the next section.


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