Kelly posted a question in response to my posting on Renting vs. Owning–creating an organization where people feel like they are participating rather than complying in aspects of the organization’s well being and direction.

Kelly wrote,

Dave, I notice that you appropriately say “involve others in the decision-making process.” I agree with this. At what point, however, does the leader take all of the information presented and make the decision? We are not talking about “consensus” are we? I have noticed in my organization, which is now trying to adapt a more user-friendly labor-management process, that the focus is on consensus. As a leader, I feel stripped of my ability to lead. To the point: all members of an organization should have a seat at the table to provide input into the decision-making process, but at the end of the day the leader should take that information and make an informed decision; as opposed to trying to find consensus or common ground. Your thoughts?

I’ve written and taught extensively on the very issues found in Kelly’s question. If you want to search my website with the word “dialogue” (the search window is at the bottom right side of this page), you will find more thinking on these ideas.

Suffice to say here, Kelly and all, consensus does have its place in organizations. However, consensus can feel contrived to those giving their “opinion” and perfunctory to the leader “seeking” the opinions. It takes real skill to build consensus.

I would however say that dialogue–the art of discovering a “better way” through an evolved conversation–is a powerful way to make decisions. Dialogue is possible when people suspend their judgements, enter into a “state of pliability” and honor the diversity of ideas found around the table. What often happens in dialogue is that the needed answer or decision POPS OUT in the midst of the discussion. It’s the AHA moment; the serendipitous insight that the group discovers through the conversation. Sometimes, not always by any means, but sometimes the decision doesn’t need to be made, it jumps out as people do collective thinking.

Now, dialogue does require time and space–which means leaders must learn to develop with their team the art of dialogue in real time. The more dialogue is used, the quicker a team can create the conversational space and find the “better way” together. This way, NO ONE person is making the decision, but rather the decision emerges as the dialouge occurs.

Of course, there are still going to be times where leaders will have to make fast and unilateral decisions. The key is not to make that unilateral approach your MO. If you rarely seek input, be ready for a myriad of trouble…the stories I could tell you.