If you’re a leader, get rid of “consensus”

I’m no Margaret Thatcher fan, but this quote is fairly close to my own views about a decision-making process known as “consensus”:

“Consensus: “The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: ‘I stand for consensus?”

Three reasons why “consensus” sticks in my throat like dry Wheatbix:

  • It’s so boring! Waiting until everyone agrees (not until everyone is heard – a completely different matter) is about as efficient as mowing the lawn with scissors. It will happen eventually, but by the time it does everyone will have forgotten why it was happening in the first place.
  • It leads to decisions that are generally weak, insipid and crap that everyone can tolerate but are never daring, challenging or bold.
  • It displaces and weakens the role of a leader. People develop into better leaders when they get given discretion but – crucially – things to achieve personally and through their team. There will be some tension and pressure (not half as much angst and frustration as there is in a consensus model), and when done well, helps a person develop into a better leader.

If you want sustainably good work from a team, make sure there’s a leader and give that leader the authority to do the job. Hold that leader to account for the quality of decision-making and execution. Do this over time and a good leader will grow and get the confidence of her team. Don’t do this and expect a thriving mediocracy.

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