Organizational Leadership Isn’t About Getting Everyone to Agree

by | May 20, 2014

A lot has been written on the topic of organizational leadership and there are many schools of thoughts on how leaders ought to lead. Getting buy-in from executives and employees for a new idea or heading in a new direction is a subject that every leader will grapple with at the time.

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

For a leader, it is a trap to hold the following opinions:

  • “The most effective path to my vision is the one lined with agreement.”
  • “If I fail to secure total and complete consensus, change will not occur.”
  • These are dangerous thoughts.Essentially, they mean that the person in the front of the room is following the group instead of the other way around. Genuine organizational leadership is far more courageous.

Courageous Leadership

If consensus becomes the Holy Grail, then the leader essentially abdicates his responsibility to lead, to make decisions, and to move the group forward.

Experienced senior executive and author Keld Jensen writes that:

“[C]onsensus is often achieved by following the path of least resistance and allowing everyone an equal say. This throws personal accountability out the window, as well as the capacity for independent thought.”

This is as true for the leader as it is for his people—and as detrimental to the group and to the organization.

Organizational Leadership is about taking risks. For example, not everyone will agree with the person at the helm. Some leaders believe that they have to gain full agreement in order to effect change. In reality, a leader needs to clearly communicate his or her vision and goals. He shares them with the group in order to take them, collectively, to a new level. It’s as if he were on a plateau with a bunch of people. His responsibility is to climb the mountain and encourage and allow the group to follow.

He can’t possibly be on this plateau and secure full agreement from everyone. Some will want to wait (maybe a helicopter will come!); some will want to descend or go back the way they came. Some will want to take one path while others argue for another. The leader can’t just choose the path of least resistance. He has to make a decision for the best way forward, and then get started.

Remember: A genuine leader doesn’t search for consensus; he molds it. It may be impossible to get full agreement to climb this mountain, but a leader can—by sharing his vision and goals—lead the group to new heights. Perhaps people don’t agree, but they will align and move forward together.

What Can We Learn from DiSC and Leadership?

Just as some people are predisposed to being reserved and others are the life of the party, there are folks who are more apt to seek consensus. As leaders, for instance, those with High-S DiSC personalities prize safety and security. They tend to want to avoid conflict, and this can unleash a strong desire to want to defer to the wishes of the group.

From an organizational leadership perspective, those with High-C personalities can be a bit introspective and cautious with perfectionist tendencies, seeking detail and consensus rather than leading from a position of certainty. A tendency of being subtle when dealing with conflict can also send the wrong message.

While a High-I personality is motivated by popularity, they use their enthusiasm and optimism to motivate others. They are expressive and are able to influence others. If there is opposition to an idea, they don’t hold grudges. They tend to use their sincerity and sense of humor to overcome obstacles.

High-D personalities tend to be willing to take more risks as leaders. If they think that climbing the mountain is the right choice, requiring agreement will not be important to them. They will, however, use their strong-willed personalities to get the group motivated and all moving in the same direction: their direction!

Both High-S and High-C folks can become effective leaders; they do, however, need to be aware of their inclination towards consensus-seeking and work on asserting their leadership for the benefit of the group. I refer to this as practicing “deviant behavior” to the extent that it is often necessary for folks with these personalities to “deviate” from their natural inclinations in order to effectively lead.

Organizational Leadership is many things to many people. From my view, a leader declares a future and enrolls people in this future by working collectively to achieve it. Leadership is far from complete, unanimous agreement. A leader talks about his vision, and then gets people excited about taking strides to reach those goals.

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