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Build consensus.

Surely 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 some times.  For example, 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.

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-Managing_forcesaving 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.

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.

[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.  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.  More often, they reflect a deficiency in willingness to cede power to the group unless for some reason necessary to withhold that power.

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 walk in the door.


  • Diane Ratican

    “A purpose you impart is no longer your own.” Goehthe

  • Diane Ratican

    “A purpose you impart is no longer your own.” Goethe

  • Michael O'Daniel

    Contrarian point of view: In the nonprofit sector, so many hiring decision are made (at a glacial pace) by search committees. And this results in an inordinate number of bad hires. Can anyone explain that? The two consequences of these bad hiring decisions that then result are: (a) the bad hire is kept on way too long, because no one wants to admit a bad decision was made; and (b) when the bad hire is finally encouraged to move on, he/she generally gets an even higher level position and restarts the process of poisoning the next organization up the chain.

  • Clarence

    As a Fire Captain your “crops on fire” sure worked for me. I attempted to build consensuses with my crews for several reasons: 1. To tap the knowledge and experience of individual members 2. As a teaching tool, and mainly: 3. To build morale. All good stuff.

  • Dave,
    This is really great advice. I can’t wait to share it with my Leadership Team.
    Thank you!

  • Dear Dave,
    INTEL Corporation:)

    Very Truly Yours,


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