I’ve seen too many great ideas slain by consensus. Death by a thousand cuts indeed.
In theory, consensus sounds like a smart way to assure agreement for a course of action, promote ownership among staff, and get your team on the same page. The reality is, however, that the process of reaching consensus more often causes frustration, stalls progress, and lowers morale. Not to mention how much time it takes. And seeing that time is the most precious resource available to nonprofits, and philanthropies, why waste it?
My theory is that consensus is used as a crutch by passionless, fearful leaders. Leaders are chosen to lead because they have demonstrated that they possess the right knowledge, skills, and commitment. They have earned the trust they need to lead. A leader with passion for an idea makes a powerful case, take the reins, takes ownership, and makes decisions. Sure it can be risky, but risk is the stuff of leadership.
Now, don’t mistake me here. Buy-in is vital. The people who do the work—who will implement the big idea and carry the real water—absolutely have to believe it’s the right idea. I believe the currency of buy-in is one part passion and one part pragmatism.
Take the time to explain how your decision solves the problem at hand, and to inspire people to get behind your choice. Chances are they’ll appreciate how you respected their scarce and valuable time, all while taking the first step to a clear course of action. That’s how you build buy-in.
But consensus is another beast entirely. And consensus kills.
(image courtesy Flickr user Okinawa Soba, Creative Commons)