How do you build consensus and coalition as a leader when leading beyond authority? This was one of the themes at the Common Purpose Leadership Programme. On the day we had a range of influential leaders to deliberate on this topic. They talked to us about different approaches they have adopted in selling their vision to diverse and often anxious stakeholders.
There were a number of useful learning points from the session. I aim to share some of the learning with you here. I hope you find them helpful in your work.
As a starting point, participants including myself were asked to offer our own perspective on this topic. Everyone shared interesting and insightful responses. Overall, we all agreed that a leader needs a bit of both – consensus and coalition to deliver change.
From a personal perspective however, as a leader of a relatively smallish organization, but one which, at the same time, has brought me opportunities to partner with other agencies, forging consensus for me is more internal. In our work, we are organizing and developing our people to deliver our vision of a society, where refugees can find the protection and the support they need to rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.
Whereas, building coalition for us seems to be more external. As a charity, we work with a range of partners to change the policies and create an environment in which the people we work with can integrate smoothly and be equal citizens.
Building support for a cause or a change isn’t always easy.
"To forge consensus, you need to stick to your integrity and to build coalition, you need to ensure that partnership is at the heart of everything you do."
Leaders often influence and exert power better when they understand when to manage and when to lead. As a leader one needs to have enough information and understanding of the context to show leadership and to gain the trust and support of followers. It is the art of operating between firm management and fine leadership. And, when leading beyond authority, it is important to understand the environment and the key players you are going to work with to effect change.
It is only natural that we are all made to resent change. It is even more complex when introducing change in a major multi departmental organization, where different interfaces of politics, behaviours and values are at stake. In addition to this, every organization perceives change in various individual ways and that a good internal leader needs to demonstrate awareness of that likely diversity of reaction in order to bring about consensus. Introducing the dream and setting the vision whilst delivering on expectations of key stakeholders can prove to be a challenging task. In certain scenarios, it is important not only to share a dream or a vision but to offer something more tangible.
Throughout the process of forging consensus to building coalition, there is often a tendency to switch to a defensive mode as soon as others start commenting on your ideas. At this stage, an effective leader will aim to understand what is important for others and take on board their views. To get the support of a much wider stakeholder group, a leader can also act as a good ambassador and build new coalitions. You may use soft influence to get others on board. As a leader you need to have the confidence to say where we are getting to, whilst taking into account personalities and individual values.
Leaders always lead beyond authority. Often they have no direct impact on people they would want to influence. It is therefore paramount to have a degree of formality in building strong and sustainable coalitions internally and outside the boundaries of your own organization.
"As a leader you require a greater understanding of common fears, common worries but also common language to build that much needed support."
Good leaders hear their supporters but they also understand when to balance between listening and delivering. A strong leader will have the strategy, organizational objectives and the vision handy to offer people a clean picture of the journey they are asked to embark on. And, when leading beyond authority, effective leadership should also show the intention to pull a "win-win" outcome from joint working, especially with organizations that may appear to have little congruence with one's own.
Finally, change isn’t bad but how you manage it is what really matters.