Consensus, or Progress?

For our #LeadershipChat discussion tonight on Twitter, we’re going to have a first – a guest author. Russell Bishop wrote Workarounds that Work (subtitle: How to Conquer Anything that Stands in Your Way at Work) – a guide to help leaders get things done in the complex work environment faced by many of us.

We’re going to work through several themes contained in the book, but one chapter in particular stood out to me, called Moving Beyond Consensus. In it, Russell discusses how an over-emphasis on gaining group consensus (or its close cousin, overall buy-in) can paralyze decision-making and inhibit progress.

Words like consensus, buy-in, and unanimity sound good on the idealistic level. But in the real world, such goals are rarely achieved. So, now what?

Helpfully, he outlines a workaround by detailing three levels of personnel and their role in decision-making:

  • Who has the ultimate authority to decide something
  • Who has the right to be consulted prior to a decision’s being made
  • Who has the right to be informed of any decisions

I like this structure, especially when these lines are clearly drawn up front. And, as Russell writes later in the chapter, when a decision is put in place and progress is being made, those who were are at first skeptical – not fully bought-in – will often jump on board as the direction takes shape.

This lesson has been reinforced in a book I’ve been reading about the leadership of General Ulysses Grant during the Civil War (thanks for the recommendation, Anthony Iannarino!) He was successful in battle because of his decisiveness – he valued progress over unanimous agreement, action over too-much-analysis. Grant’s fellow officers didn’t always agree with the final decision, but having voiced their viewpoints, they’d go forward with the chosen direction and carry the battle forward.

How have you seen this play out in your work history? Are you seeing a good balance between consensus and decisiveness, or is the boat capsizing on the side of either paralysis, or autocratic fiat? Join us for an enlightening discussion on #LeadershipChat tonight! And be sure, in preparation, to read my co-host Lisa Petrilli‘s introductory blog post on our topic, Shift Your Thinking for Business (and Life) Transformation.

(Original image credit)

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