Leadership Developement

Can you lead a team of rivals? Building consensus as a key leadership competency

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In my last few blogs I have been discussing a number of leadership behaviors and traits that are critical to success in a leadership role. In my last blog, I haddiscussed a critical leadership competency, which is to develop other leaders. The main idea of that blog was the ability of great leaders to build leaders across the organization, who in turn will build more leaders thereby ensuring that the leadership pipeline across all levels is well stocked.
In this blog, I am picking up another leadership competency/behavior which is to build consensus. Across the spectrum of industry, the leaders who can build consensus and carry their team with them get outstanding results, while those who tend to plow a lone furrow of their ideas without getting buy in from their teams, fail no matter how brilliant they are or their past track record. In one of my earlier blogs I have referred to the book “Team of Rivals” which narrates the story of how Abraham Lincoln could build consensus on all the important decisions which he took, in spite of having his erstwhile political rivals holding all important portfolios. He used a number of leadership competencies to ensure that he had his team on his side and they backed him on all the decisions that he took.
So what does consensus mean? And why is it important for a leader in today’s world to ensure that the critical decisions taken by them are agreed to be their teams.
The generally accepted dictionary meaning of consensus is “a general agreement about something: an idea or opinion that is shared by all the people in a group .Wikipedia expands on this definition to decision making by saying that Consensus decision making is “A group decision-making process in which group members develop, and agree to support, a decision in the best interest of the whole. Consensus may be defined professionally as an acceptable resolution, one that can be supported, even if not the “favourite” of each individual”.
Examining these two definitions, a few aspects stand out. The first is “best interest of the whole” , the second is “ acceptable resolution” and the third is “even if not favorite of each individual”.
What do these three aspects mean? The first aspect, best interest of whole is critical to getting to consensus in a group. For any decision or plan of action to be accepted by the group, they must believe that the decision is in their collective interest. The leader, therefore has to be mindful that the plan of action he wants to implement will be for the good of the employees and the good of the organization. It will be almost impossible for the leader to implement a plan with the support of his team in case this aspect is not ensured.
The second and third aspects of the definition imply a little give and take. Everybody does not get what they want but all members of the group get something which they can live with. Flexibility, empathy and getting a deeper understanding of other group members interests and needs will therefore be a key ingredient of building consensus. During the consensus building stage it is important that underlying conflicts should not be avoided, because without understanding and accepting their differences people cannot jointly solve problems. The important part is that the differences are clearly articulated and are then resolved through negotiation.
Now coming to the second question, why is it necessary for leaders to build consensus on critical decisions with their teams? The workforce of today is knowledgeable, confident and are unlikely to agree to implement a plan which they do not believe in. The times of autocratic leadership style has passed and more and more teams and organizations are achieving success through the participative and empowering style of leadership. Leaders need to spend time in explaining reasons for recommending a certain plan of action, letting their teams debate the pros and cons of the plan in an open mannerand encourageteam members with dissenting views to voice their dissent. They then need to be open to address the reason for dissent and get the buy in of their teams to the final plan/decision. Without these two, it will be very difficult, nigh impossible for leaders to implement their plans effectively and get the desired results in today’s business environment.
A great leader does not desire a team of pliable members who agree to his views. Instead, they deliberately build a team of strong and competent individuals who can constantly challenge them and their ideas, debate and have conflict of views but would who pull together once the team consensus is reached.
Building consensus is hard work and it takes a lot of patience, flexibility and influencing on part of the leader to ensure that all team members agree to the decision even if they have some reservations initially. As the quote by Martin Luther King at the beginning of the blog says…. Great leaders are molders of consensus, implying that they make the effort to get their team to a common agreement which is in the best interest of the organization, rather than the one with the least disagreements.
In the next blog I will discuss the various methods by which leaders can build consensus and the possible pitfalls that need to be avoided.
Do let me know what you think of the ideas expressed in this blog? Would welcome any examples that you can share of leaders exhibiting this competency in their role .
Rajiv is the principal consultant at R Square Consulting. Rajiv can be reached at rajiv@rquareconsult.in forany query, discussion or professional requirements.
About R Square consulting :R Square consulting provides end to end services in the field of building leadership and managerial capability to include leadership development interventions based on a holistic blend of exploration, reflection, action learning and coaching, assessment centers and various Organizational development interventions.
R square consulting provides customised and holistic HR interventions for developing the human capital of an organization through:
Executive Coaching
Assessment and Development Centers
Organizational Development Interventions
Leadership and managerial development
Flexi HR support for SME
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One thought on “Can you lead a team of rivals? Building consensus as a key leadership competency

  1. As a leader of the team i have always come accross a query thats never spoken loudly by team member
    “Whats there for me ?”
    If this question is answered by the leader and opportunities created in the project in my experience the team always wins
    Thanku for the wonderful approach to the CONSENSUS theory

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