Monday, March 1, 2010

Leadership Lessons - You Break All Ties

I recently passed my three-year anniversary as an association CEO. Prior to that I had spent several years as the deputy CEO of a much larger association, and prior to that ten or so years in various positions of increasing responsibility at an association management company. When I came on board as the CEO, I knew I had some things to learn, but felt pretty confident in my abilities and knowledge. Here's one of the lessons I learned early on.

I've always been very focused on consensus. Working with a Board, a committee, or a staff team, building consensus around strategies and tactics is something I always seek. To the degree it engages people in a decision-making process and gets them to willingly act on those decisions, it's something I think is worth fighting for.

At a staff meeting about three months into my current CEO position I remember being stymied by trying to gain a consensus regarding the advancement of a certain initiative. No one was being difficult or antagonistic about it, but there were two clear and opposing views about what should be done. Each perspective had valid reasons to support it. And no matter how much I pushed and probed, neither side seemed willing to concede that the alternate approach was worth trying.

I was still learning things about the new association I worked for, and up to that point, I had relied heavily on the knowledge of the staff to help make the best decisions. At that time, I realize now, I saw my role as more of a facilitator than a leader, working with the staff as I had worked with Boards, taking responsibility for the decision-making process instead of the decisions themselves.

But no matter how much I facilitated, a consensus simply would not emerge in this particular meeting. After about 30 minutes of batting the same two balls around the table, I was feeling frustrated, and as I looked into the patient and knowing faces around me, the solution to the problem suddenly popped into my head.

You're the boss. They're waiting for you to make a decision.

Here's what I learned. Consensus is good, but there are times when a quest for consensus is counterproductive. There are times when competing points of view have equal weight and a judgment call has to be made. It's a leader's job to identify those situations and to make the necessary decisions.


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