Leading Beyond Authority

by Julia Middleton

9. Consensus versus coalition

When leading beyond authority, leaders need to be able to plan out who they are going to work with, who are the supporters of the change, who is against it, what are the obstacles that can be overcome and what needs to be worked around. It becomes important to build guiding coalitions and not to work for consensus. Many leaders who are working to build consensus will miss opportunities and get stuck because of the time taken to pull everyone together. Even if they reach a limited consensus, this can leave the leader able to achieve little, due to a compromised plan or proposal.

Moving towards building coalitions will require a stronger approach than the consensus route. This demands a leader who is familiar with and able to take a stand on what they believe in and the end goal they want to reach. It’s in this area that some of the most difficult leadership decisions are faced. Some questions to ask are these:

  • How do you get around people who present obstacles?
  • What is the difference between manipulating people and situations and making sure you can achieve the end goal? How do you manage this?

Paddy Ashdown says it is the lack of will to build coalitions that makes most businessmen unable to lead beyond their authority. ‘They don’t have the patience to build coalitions. They simply won’t make the endless compromises.’

If you don’t want all the hassle involved, then stay in your core circle, because coalitions take time; they are messy. And, if you are used to straightforward power, they can be extremely frustrating.

Why think about this?

If you want to understand more about this, you may

  • Be worried about receiving criticism or negative feedback, or about working without full group agreement or consensus
  • Want to become more aware of the influence you have over the people around you and the different roles those people play
  • Be interested in developing a strategy to get the most out of the people around you and minimise the obstacles.