When Consensus Management is No longer an Option

Posted on January 30, 2014.

I think every manager and leader can relate to President Obama’s latest strategy as outlined in his State of the Union address the other night. He feels he’s tried to lead by consensus and tried to meet the needs of the majority of Congress, but he’s throwing up his hands and saying, “I’m done.”  Haven’t we all felt a little like that sometimes?

In my former life, I tried hard to get input from my team and key partners before making major decisions.  And fortunately for me, that process worked most of the time.  But at least for me, when the following elements were there, I knew I had to act alone.

·      When the decision impacts your team in a personal way. These are decisions that usually have something to do with pay, time off, workspace or anything that prevents the impacted person to act in an impartial manner. Let’s face it, this is the problem with Congress. Seems like everyone on the Hill is taking everything too personally. 

·      When the decision must remain confidential.  Or at least confidential until it’s announced.  I always found these types of decisions difficult to make alone.  The impact was usually significant and it’s exactly at these times you wish you could ask others for their input.

·      When the input you receive isn’t in the best interest of the organization.  Much like bullet one, it’s often difficult to look at decisions objectively.  Too often the people you’re asking will try to see what outcome may be in their best interest. This is clearly what our politicians are doing. It’s your job to weed out the “hidden agendas” and sometimes that means acting alone.

·      When no one agrees.  Respecting that other people may have a different point of view is the foundation for consensus management.  And when it works well, the outcome is often the best possible outcome because you’ve included the diversity of opinions.  But if you ask five people and get five different answers, you’re on you own.  You can certainly include their viewpoint, but ultimately the decision will be yours.

Consensus management should be your first strategy. But much like President Obama, it’s a strategy that doesn’t always work.  The challenge is that when you are making the decision alone, you risk not getting buy-in from the very people you need to help execute the decision.  But as a manager and leader, you need to learn when to go it alone and then how best to communicate the decision,