Ask The Experts

Consensus-management and leadership

Question: I believe in consensus-management,which to me means not making any decision alone, but by involving all the stakeholders involved. Complying with this principle, I have been passing many decisions entrusted to me to my key managers, who are part of the executive committee.

Together, they study the situation and thereafter, they jointly make the decision. I personally feel this is true democracy at work, which is aligned well to my principle of not discriminating anyone.

However, I am now at loggerheads with my boss who thinks I am irresponsible and uncommitted when I get things done this way. He wants me to play a more active (rather than passive) role in decision-making.

When I asked him if he wanted me to be more autocratic, he said no. I am confused and angry, as he is suggesting that I interfere with the work of others. Can you give me your views on this?

Answer: Firstly, try putting yourself in your boss’ shoes to understand why he feels this way. It could be that your boss is jumping into the picture now, as results are not as what he expected.

Some of these feelings could be: you are a weak leader who dare not lead from the front, but rather from behind, or that you are safeguarding your position so that you can push the blame onto others should things go wrong.

All in all, your boss feels that as a leader you can be totally democratic in a decentralised way of decision-making. To him, you may need to be in the picture, guiding them, but eventually you will be the person making the decision.

I, for one, am a cautious believer in consensus-management. While small decisions are fine, bigger ones have to be made by the leader. Of course, we do have to consider every viewpoint.But ultimately, it is the leader who makes the final decision. The followers will then learn from the leader as to how they have arrived at the decision.

Over time, these followers will grow their confidence and thinking ability, and gradually, they will be able to step up to make bigger decisions by the day.

Total consensus-management should be carefully considered as it may not work in all situations. The justification for consensus-management is that it promotes harmony among the people.

But, does it really? Or is it only a superficial act of maintaining smiles? Remember, a quarrel-free work environment does not equate to high performance and desired results.

In the many cases of consensus-management that I know of, the respect for the leader diminishes because the followers had expectations of a greater amount of guidance and support, rather than being thrown in the deep end.

At the end of the day, followers want a leader who can lead, show them the way, coach them to be both confident and capable, while also being a strong critic who dares challenge themselves to be better than what they think they can be.

Powerful Questions You Can Ask Yourself

• What are the interests of your people and your stakeholders that you have to consider in a holistic manner?

• What does that tell you about what you should decide?

• How can you let go without letting off?

• What decision will please all parties, including yourself?

Article by Dr Michael Heah, an ICF Master Certified Coach with