Consensus May Not Be A Dirty Word, But It Is A Lazy Leadership Word

Once Margaret Thatcher described consensus as to the opposite of leadership. 

She felt that consensus is an abdication of leadership obligations; true leaders take you somewhere the group otherwise would never go.

I believe, the need to “build consensus” can be an excuse to avoid making hard but necessary decisions. 

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At best it could be a well-intentioned but naive effort to achieve an impossible unanimity. 

Regardless of the cause, the search for consensus can leave the organization locked in inactivity.

At one time, consensus was a perfectly fine word and being a “consensus-builder” was a perfectly fine leadership characteristic.

Yet, in my opinion, consensus has become an excuse.

An excuse for not meeting the unpleasant duties of personal and organizational leadership.

The search for consensus creates an environment where the perfect has become the enemy of done and leads to organizational paralysis and irrelevance.

I have too often observed leadership teams where every action is agreed to by consensus, which causes the organization to be locked in constant and unproductive conflict.

Conversely, I have been part of teams where the debates are vigorous (sometimes even heated), and the decisive votes may be close but turn into action because the underlying values, principles and direction of the team are so strong that it results in an organizational and leadership culture that is robust and healthy.

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Consensus is different because it creates danger. After all, you might assume consensus just because you have the votes.

The real world of leadership is where divisions persist and where differences cannot be eliminated, only bridged.

A leader who understands the extent of the limits of consensus can take the organization where it needs to go.

The leader who knows how to maximize or even expand the scope of consensus is in a position to take their team and organization to new heights. 

Consensus used in the best sense of the word could be the key to unlocking the organization’s full potential.

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