What is consensual leadership?

Consensual leadership is about encouraging acceptance and agreement before actions are taken and this approach has never been more relevant. John Pearce explains in SecEd.

Fake news, sexual abuse, Grenfell Tower, child safety, the gender pay gap, social media corruption, Windrush – a common theme in all of these seems to be abuse of power.

Dictatorial, non-consensual leaders tend to act first and think second, if they think at all. When things go wrong, as they often do, they talk of “unintended consequences” to excuse their lack of thought – probably because they didn’t seek the help or advice of others. If they did consult, it is likely that others were too frightened to disagree.

We have to break the cycle, and consensual leadership might be one way of doing that.

My starter definition for consensual leadership is this: “Consensual leadership is about encouraging acceptance and agreement before actions are taken. It is about seeking cooperative approaches and mutual understanding. It implies sympathetic and emotionally intelligent responses. It is inclusive, enabling and empowering and encourages working together and caring interdependently. It’s also about unconditional regard, respect, love and dignity of thought.”

Years ago I developed a self-evaluation framework called iAbacus to address a similar scenario I witnessed in struggling schools. I had been disheartened about the way teachers and heads were being affected by “top-down” inspection regimes and a bewildering series of government acts, edicts and changes. We all saw this disempowering teachers and leaders, many of whom spoke of depression, stress, and bullying. 

PANINI stands for Point And Nature of Intervention Needs Intelligence. Okay, it is an awful acronym but hopefully you’ll remember it. The model is based on the idea that moving our behaviours from left to right on the continuum will bring about consensual relationships. 

Essentially, it suggests that behaviours on the right side will facilitate better cooperation and interdependence. It is about working through agreement. It is not that the left side is wrong. It is recognising that too many left-hand behaviours will tend to build dependence: “Please Miss – what do you want us to do next?” 

So, we ought to use more right-hand behaviours if we want to build capacity, encourage sharing and team-work. We want colleagues and students to say: “Hey, we can do it ourselves!”

Read more about PANINI and consensual leadership What is consensual leadership?

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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