In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’d like to think about one of his great quotes: “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” What does it mean to be a leader who molds consensus?
At RingCentral, I seek to mold consensus in a few key ways. Consensus, by definition, means “agreement.” In a corporate setting, this translates to an alignment of purpose. Setting common goals and working toward them brings a company into alignment. This has to be done on a global level as well as on a department-level or on a project-by-project basis. Measuring on common goals gives clear indicators when things are falling out of alignment. Good leaders know how to set good goals and how to manage them so that their companies stay on-track.
Molding consensus isn’t as easy as setting and measuring goals, though. A very key piece of it is making sure that those around you have a voice in the process. Did you see Selma, the biopic on Dr. King that’s in theaters right now? Note in that movie how, when Dr. King made decisions on how to move the civil rights movement forward, he didn’t make any decision – whether to march or not, whether to visit the White House again or not, etc. — in a vacuum. He sought input from those around him, from his “team,” regularly. He molded consensus through asking those around him to voice their positions and to provide solutions. Since they shared common goals, they compromised on methods to reach them much more easily. Consensus is best achieved through that commonality as a starting point.
That said, those who disagree and who are not part of the “consensus” play a valuable role, too. Consensus cannot be forced. By way of an example, think about the differences between Dr. King’s movement and that of Malcolm X. Both shared and worked toward a common goal of civil rights. Dr. King built consensus through “negotiate, demonstrate, resist.” Malcolm X attempted to build consensus “by any means necessary.” Both leaders were valuable to the civil rights movement. That said, think: for which one would you have rather worked?
In today’s workplace, different forces can work toward common goals. After all, groupthink can be stifling while competition can be healthy and can drive innovation. A good leader always will bring end results back to one unified team and purpose, though. Molding consensus involves acknowledging different inputs but also must make sure that anyone on the “losing” end of a competitive atmosphere is always given another chance to succeed the next time around. This is how we remain the same team, ultimately: by feeling like we all have a voice and a shot at a solution or goal as a part of a bigger unit. There’s no room in consensus-molding for fear but there ought to be some for risk-taking, as long as it’s understood and gated with frequent milestones.
Lastly, what does a leader seeking to mold consensus do with “superstars?” Encourage them! Guide them to collaborate, though. They need to understand that without team buy-in, long-term success is not viable. Leaders also need to address those who aren’t necessarily superstars but who may be stubborn. Help those folks to understand their motivation and their role within the sense of the team.
Setting and measuring goals, having an alignment of purpose, and being welcoming of different voices, competition, and risk-taking all serve to create an atmosphere where consensus is not something to be sought but, rather, is something that just is central to the ethos of a company. Good leaders can mold this in a sense very true to the work of Dr. King, through negotiation and demonstration and through resisting anything contrary to the shared end-goal.
How do you mold consensus in your workplace?