Consensus Driven Leadership

As I have previously written, our political system has devolved into a state of Great Dysfunction, such that political leaders, such as Speaker of the House John Boehner and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, seem to thrive on conflict rather than actually reaching across the aisle to resolve problems faced by the people who elected them.  At the national level, Speaker Boehner persists in allowing the House of Representatives to vote over 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even though he knows that such votes have no chance of becoming law.  In Wisconsin, Governor Walker persists on arresting peaceful Solidarity Singers in the Capitol, even though he knows that they will not stop their peaceful protests no matter how many times they are arrested.

The question our nation struggles with today is whether there is any room in our political system for consensus driven leadership.  Before exploring that challenge, let’s make sure we know what consensus means.  A common misperception is that consensus requires everyone to agree.  A much better definition, which avoids the sabotage of vetoing progress by refusing consensus is Merriam-Webster’s definition:

the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned.

Using this definition would avoid the political gamesmanship of Speaker Boehner and Governor Walker that appears to be calculated for power accumulation rather than actual substantive policy leadership.

In 2004, then candidate for US Senate, Barack Obama, gave his famous speech at the Democratic National Convention, where he optimistically declared that:

The pundits…like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.

There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

Given President Obama’s difficulties in bringing Speaker Boehner’s House along for consensus policy making, the question remains: can consensus driven leadership succeed?

It is well recognized that consensus driven  decisions provide the best results for the most people.  But how can we get there when power driven naysayers are committed to destroying consensus?  Key elements to achieving consensus are:

  • Providing sufficient information to decision makers.  Consensus cannot be achieved in a knowledge vacuum;
  • Consensus cannot be achieved in an atmosphere of fear or threat;
  • Quality leadership is essential to achieving consensus;
  • Consensus requires mutually accepted accountability to implement the decisions which are made.

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker’s new book, Unintimidated, is a declaration of war on those who disagree with him, rather than an invitation to lead through consensus.  His leadership style has resulted in Wisconsin becoming one of the most politically polarized states in the nation.  The challenge for his next opponent, in 2014, is to present a viable option to become the Governor for ALL of Wisconsin.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

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