The third C on the path toward gaining a “followership” is Consensus Building. This may be the first “honest” step in the leadership progression, because it does not open the way for persons to be manipulated, as Crises and Compelling Visions do. Consensus Building relies less on charisma, hypnotic eyes and/or British accents and more on listening and hearing the voice of the led.
Consensus Building is also the first C that gives a legitimate voice to the concerns and desires of the led. What do your followers want to achieve? What collective goals to the leader and potential followers share? How can goals be prioritized when not every goal can be given equal emphasis?
Consensus Building is an art, not an act. The effective leader (and in this case I mean one who is actually concerned about the well-being of others and not just the exaltation of self) will possess a fundamental, non-negotiable set of objectives, but will allow room for discussion of what objectives of others can be accommodated without compromising the fundamentals.
Let’s look at a potential business scenario. A well-established company has had a downturn, to where it is unprofitable and in danger of shutting down. Clearly, this is a Crisis and can be managed as such (i.e., the leader channels Alexander Haig and declares “I am in charge here!”), with little to no room for the voice of the employees. In this scenario, a Compelling Vision would be very hard to develop without the employees believing the leader has lost it.
There is another path. The leader can explain the reality with his/her workers, that if the organization cannot find a path to sustained profitability (a non-negotiable fundamental), it will have no choice but to close. The leader declares he/she is all ears to listen to ideas toward cost-cutting, improving quality, timeliness of delivery, improved service to remaining customers and how to reconnect to former customers.
Consensus Building is one of the two Cs that presents leadership as a shared responsibility, that the followers have a say in the forward progress of the organization, and that win or lose, everyone in the organization wins or loses together. Consensus Building is a very powerful leadership ability, one that does not require the artificial stoking of the fires of Crisis or Compelling Vision. In fact, leadership by Consensus Building can function effectively forever, provided the leader continually walks the talk.
In Part 6, the Fourth C: Cooperation