The Intelligent Leader’s Guide to Consensus Building

Consensus-building unites organizations in working toward goals established through fair collaboration. It also makes teams more likely to act and deliver on such goals. 

Consensus is about shared goals meeting all relevant interests of the parties involved.

In the context of leadership, consensus is a controversial concept. 

“Consensus is the absence of leadership.” – Margaret Thatcher. 

Albert Einstein was not a fan of consensus either. “When consensus is reached, thinking stops. Stop nodding your head,” he stated, making it clear that he considered genius and consensus to be wholly incompatible. 

That said, from the perspective of intelligent leadership, consensus is a must. Without it, it is nigh impossible to establish the collaborative spirit and cohesiveness organizations need to effectively act on the decisions they make. 

Why Organizations Need to Build Consensus

Successful consensus-building is not about getting all parties involved to agree. Its goals are to solicit ideas and input from all those involved, without excluding or condescending to anyone. Through this diverse input, it aims to understand and explore different perspectives, set reasonable shared goals that meet the interests of all parties involved and get teams and organizations to act on these shared goals. 

The responsibility for achieving consensus always rests with the parties involved in the process, and not an outside entity. 

A consensus-style leader will: 

  • Strive for unity and organizational harmony by mediating disagreements. 
  • Take diverse perspectives into account when making a decision. 
  • Be inclusive and supportive when soliciting opinions. 
  • Be open to discussion and assistance. 
  • Be adept at influencing discussions through diplomacy. 

Avoid scapegoating in favor of finding solutions. 

The Pitfalls of Consensus-Building

Intelligent leadership calls for successful consensus-building. Real-life corporate environments can, however, derail effective consensus-building in several ways. 

  • Participants may refrain from taking the initiative. 
  • Often, those involved know what their superiors want to hear. Thus, they push for the kind of consensus they know to be “the right” one. 
  • Fear of change and a tendency to maintain the status quo are also limiting factors. 
  • Some will agree with anything to get the meeting to end sooner. 

Consensus-style leaders may come up short on several accounts as well. 

  • They give up too much of their authority in the decision-making process. 
  • They avoid conflicts and miss opportunities to improve consensus outcomes. 
  • They grow indecisive. 
  • They miss opportunities to provide constructive feedback. 
  • They fail to properly prioritize tasks. 

Facilitating Consensus-Building

Given the competing priorities and ideas of those involved in the consensus-building process, it is often a good idea to facilitate consensus through an impartial mediator. 

Third-party facilitators can set the rules of the consensus-building session. 

The role of such a mediator is to set the rules for the consensus-building session and enforce them. 

Executive Leadership and Consensus-building

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Consensus-building cannot and should not sideline executive leadership within an organization. Without executive support, consensus is difficult to achieve. Executive leadership that understands successful consensus-building will facilitate it while making sure that the efforts that go into consensus-building do not go to waste. 

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