Consensus Leadership: Mind the Gaps

Consensus-Leadership-GapsI’ve been discussing consensus leadership and the many drawbacks it presents.

When I discuss this with my coaching clients, those who overvalue consensus and unity identify conflict as their primary source of managerial tension. Disharmony causes them anguish, so the prospect of confrontation troubles them. They work overtime to establish and maintain a peaceful environment, believing that oneness is the only viable way to work—and anything short of it constitutes a problem to be rectified.

Their primary means of maintaining a unified team is to help people meet their needs, keep them positive and cooperative, and affirm togetherness while dissuading strife. This sometimes means playing the role of mediator or peacekeeper. At other times, it may mean avoiding difficult situations, hoping they’ll blow over. Keeping the peace often involves telling people what they want to hear or hiding difficult issues from them. In the moment, the short-term benefits seem to outweigh the potential long-term risks.

Mind the Gaps

Have you noticed how leaders who feed off consensus and unity as their primary means of comfort have difficulty seeing the consequences of their behaviors?

Clearly, people are never in continuous harmony. Too many opposing interests prevent long-lived peace and quiet. Ironically, a leader desperate to prevent conflict can actually foment it. Building consensus involves working through and acknowledging disagreements. Skirting them prevents consensus. Leaders fail to realize their efforts can be counterproductive, causing tension and frustration, and quashing group decision-making.

Telling people what they want to hear can be an act of miscommunication. Incorrect information leads to faulty conclusions and improper direction or activities. Leaders fail to see that keeping the peace causes more tension than being truthful and working through the issues. Employees appreciate transparency more than peacekeeping.

Leaders are better trained than their employees to evaluate complex issues. The team’s consensus may not offer the best solution. Forgoing authority in an attempt to empower people may severely backfire. Long-term goals are more important than immediate gratification.

Keeping the peace can be exhausting, especially if it means stuffing your preferences or agenda. Consensus-style leaders must accept that it’s nearly impossible to prevent all conflicts or outspokenness within the ranks. The peace they think they’re preserving may wreak havoc. Being tired, frustrated or anxious quickly ruins a leader’s ability to manage people.

What do you think? Have you experienced other gaps in consensus leadership? I’d love to hear from you. You can call me at 704-827-4474; let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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