Leading by Consensus-Building

I’ve read a lot of books and had a lot of teaching on leadership.  A leadership style that has always intrigued me is leading by consensus-building.  This means that decisions are not made democratically (by vote), or by a dictator.  You move ahead when everyone agrees.

I’ll give all of you who have ever worked in a group context a few moments to control your laughter.

I love the book The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.  (If you have never read it, it is the story of a  “missionary” in the Congo, as told by his unfortunate wife and daughters.  It is a beautiful and frightening tale.)  There is much upheaval in the Congo at the time, and voting for political leaders has been imposed by colonial powers.  The villagers in the story don’t like making decisions this way, because then a large percentage of people will be unhappy with the decision.  Traditionally, the leader(s) would go around, gather support, discuss issues with many different individuals so that most people, if not everyone, would support the decision made.

Now, I love the idea of everyone agreeing on a course of action.  But in practice…  well, you’ve met people, right?  

But that is the way things work here.  I’ve watched through my time in Kigali and realized that suddenly announcing something in a meeting and expecting a favorable response is setting yourself up for failure.  (Too bad, becuase that way is so much more efficient!)  Because I have been in such a learning position, I have found myself going around and asking different people for advice before I have made decisions or announcements, even on things that are my initiative and within my sphere of authority.

I have realized that people actually like having input!  People like to have time to be prepared before things are announced in a group context.  Even those people who disagreed have felt like they were heard and their thoughts were important.  Often, people were much more supportive and willing to help with ideas.  (And ideas were definitely made better by including the wisdom of people who knew better than me.)

I have by no means mastered this, but I have begun to learn about how to actually work this way through my time at the YWAM Kigali base.  Sometimes, having many small conversations instead of one large one seems like a gigantic waste of time to me.  However, I have seen that in many ways my time is not as important as I tend to think it is, and this is a much BETTER way to lead.

4 thoughts on “Leading by Consensus-Building

  1. I just started reading The Poisonwood Bible this morning and it was soooo painful to read…it was creating angst!!. I was hemming and hawing all day about if I should continue or not and now this evening I read your blog!! I’m going to give it another try. Great post, do you think this is a warm culture/cold culture thing?

    • Kim! Its one I have read over and over. It was way more terrifying the last time I picked it up, since we have been here (ie, there are some things I recognize, like building up garden beds in mounds). I think part of it is a warm culture thing, but I think that it is bigger than that. We are watching the tv show West Wing, and it seems that that is the way they do a lot of things too. (Although I have no idea how much that corresponds to real life.) On Oct 18, 2014 9:45 AM, “Tallons' Tales Online” wrote:


  2. Hi Mike & Amanda!
    My family met you when you came and spoke at Kentwood Alliance Church last year.
    Taylor, our 7yr old daughter, is in “Awana” and learning about Missionaries.
    We chose you!
    Could you help us understand where you are/ go and what you do? In a way Taylor can explain it to her Awana leader?
    Thank you so much!

    Jamie, Shannon, Taylor & Cooper

    • That’s great, thanks for thinking of us! I am going to try to respond to this directly to your email address, so if you don’t get anything from me soon, let me know! On Nov 2, 2014 11:32 PM, “Tallons' Tales Online” wrote:


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