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Are you a consensus leader or dictator?

It’s a good bet that you’ve been exposed to articles, courses and lectures about various styles of management, and how each is appropriate for some companies and for some levels of organization and at various times.

When should the dictator in you emerge?

A consensus-building leader works well in that style until someone yells “fire!” and the emergency requires a dictatorial style of management to act quickly, protecting lives.

Different organizations require different styles

If you’ve ever been on the board of a non-profit organization, especially one in education, you know that a dictatorial style of management has no place in the organization (again unless there is an emergency requiring life-saving decisions).   In the non-profit sector, all decisions move slower, frustrating many board members who are business tycoons or entrepreneurs used to making rapid, final decisive moves in the workplace.

Bold leadership decisions as a norm

But wait a minute.  Is it appropriate for managers in any business to make a habit of making rapid, decisive moves as a matter of style?  In a past insight, I used the phrase: “Bet the farm only when the crops are on fire!” to underline the risk in making continuous bold decisions that obligate a company’s resources in a single transaction.

The argument for consensus leadership

[Email readers, continue here…]  It is much more appropriate and certainly more appreciated if you take the time to bring your direct reports along in the thinking process, to obtain their input with issues that affect them, and to attempt to gain consensus from the leadership team before moving into implementing decisions where risk is involved or where the others are affected.

An additional benefit from consensus leadership

Many a time I have thought a solution was obvious until one of my board members, peers or direct reports pointed out a facet of the problem not previously considered.  Bold decisions seem to reflect strong leadership.  But more often, they reflect a deficiency in willingness to cede power to the group unless for some reason necessary to withhold that power.

The wiser choice of management style

A decision made by consensus is probably a wiser decision and surely one that will be received down the line with more willingness to implement it than one posted as an order.  Orders come from somewhere up there in the minds of most people below direct reports.  And there is no better way to destroy a company’s culture than having the majority of those in the workforce believing that they are just “workin’ for the man” (woman) when they start their work each day…

  • Joyce T

    Very well said!
    I’m always jazzed when my team brings me ideas/thoughts/angles that I haven’t considered before.
    This is particularly important in today’s modern workforce where we value creativity and collaboration. The bright minds of our newer generations don’t want to just punch in and out for a paycheck, they want to feel like they’re making a difference in the various roles they take, even though they may not be the captain of the ship.
    What’s tricky is when switching to the “emergency” mode or in very challenging situations where an executive decision needs to be made, and sometimes that decision goes against the consensus. Not everyone on the team understands or is read in on the details behind such tough decisions and may feel demoralized that their inputs don’t count at the end. So it’s prudent for a leader to communicate, to the extent possible, that such action is needed to steer the team out of harms way.

  • Clear, concise, informative and doable! Thank you Dave.

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