“A genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.

I worked with a client recently who was stepping from a senior position into a senior, senior position. She was a great leader; she had great vision; people loved working with and for her; she was a great team builder and team player. She was, in many ways, completely ready to take on her new role.

Except for potentially one thing.

Nearly every time I work with a client, especially a senior client, I gather feedback from all around them. It helps to know how others view you, and what others want from you. With this knowledge we can set coaching objectives and focus our discussions.

No surprise that my client’s feedback came back stellar. Glowing in fact. Everyone had full support of her new endeavor and everyone was sure she would succeed. Except for, again, potentially one thing.

You see, of the hundreds of feedback assessments I’ve facilitated, all but less than a handful have come back like this… “Lisa, you’re great in these five ways. But you know what, these three or four of those five you sometimes do too much.” The same was true for my client.

People loved working with her, and they especially loved how collaborative she was. How much she involved others in her thought processes and decisions. Especially her decisions. My client was the one to poll the group, take everyone’s – or at least nearly everyone’s – opinion and interests into consideration, and then – with everyone on board – choose a direction. She was a great searcher of, or even builder of, consensus.

And everyone around her was afraid this would get in her way. Because while it is wonderful to be an inclusive leader, and it’s a strength to know how to bring others along and help them feel like they’ve weighed in or even chosen the final choice, the strongest leaders have to make the hard calls and even pull people along. Often.

My client had to learn to move ahead anyway, even if not everyone was happy with her choice. She already had confidence in her own thought process; she just wanted others to feel good, even great, about the outcomes and the decisions made. She now needed to build the ability to take actions even if she hadn’t built consensus.

She had to learn to set the course and trust that others would join in…or not. And that she would handle either outcome. She had to decide what needed to happen and where they needed to go. She needed to mold consensus.

Molding consensus can seem difficult, but it can be relatively easy. A few simple (or not so simple) steps to take are:

  • Share your vision – so others know where you’re going
  • Set context – so others understand what had influenced your vision and decision
  • Seek targeted input – so you aren’t operating only from your own point of view, and therefore potentially missing something important
  • Engage change agents and champions – so that you have support and rallying agents for your ideas and your direction
  • Repeat as necessary

I’m happy to report that my client did all these things. It may have been the coaching. I’d like to claim it was.  What truly mattered is that my client heard her feedback and stepped up and forward – and molded consensus to the future she saw for her company.

Where do you need to mold consensus? Where do you need to search for it? Click here to comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For help in molding consensus, contact Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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