So you’d love to get everyone to buy into your idea, don’t you?
Church leaders (and many other organizational leaders) are famous for trying to get consensus around an idea before launching it.
I get that.
But consensus has a cost. A big cost. Here it is:
Consensus kills courage.
Very few good, innovative ideas gain consensus before a leader acts.
In fact, most great new ideas worth anything are divisive right out of the gate.
As a result, leaders shrink back. They smell the tension, and they back off. They try to get too much buy-in on the front end, and their vision doesn’t actually become better, it just becomes diluted.
As a result, too many leaders lose hope, passion and vision.
Why is that? How can you turn it around?
Think about how different history would be if great leaders always needed consensus from the people they led:
Moses would have left the Israelites in slavery.
Jesus would have listened to the disciples and talked himself out of the cross.
Peter would never have given up his kosher diet.
The apostle Paul would have gone back to Phariseeism.
Martin Luther would have waited for his bishop to approve.
Martin Luther King would have delayed until legislators were sympathetic.
Even Henry Ford, inventor of the assembly line and first mass producer of cars, famously said that if he’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses.”
Any time you’re seeking to bring about radical change, most people will think it’s a terrible idea. And sometimes, they’re right.
But there are other times where they’re not.
You should live for the ‘once in a while’ idea. It’s the kind of idea that changes everything.
When it comes to courageous change, here are four things that are true:
1. Consensus on the front end kills courage
If you look for consensus during a season of innovation, it will almost always strip the courage out of your idea.
Trying to find consensus while mining for fresh ideas results in diluted ideas because people often don’t realize what they need before they see it.
No one needed smart phones…until the smartphone was invented. Now try to remove it from the marketplace or your life.
Even the electric light bulb was seen as a stupid idea. Scientist Henry Morton of the Stevens Institute of Technology predicted the light bulb would be ‘a conspicuous failure.’ A British parliamentary committee concluded the light bulb was ‘good enough for our transatlantic … but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men.’
And if you are looking for courage, few things will kill it faster than the drive for early consensus.
The best idea only looks like the best idea after it wins.
2. Individuals are almost always more courageous than teams
I don’t know why this is true, but it’s often easier for a team of people to adapt to a bold idea and make it better than it is for a team to come up with a bold idea.
This isn’t always the case, but in many instances, I think it is. I dream in teams and I encourage people to dream alone, but often the best ideas come from one person.
Teams are one thing. Committees are another.
I’m not 100% sure what the differences are between the two, but I think teams tend to attract leaders while committees rarely do.
So, if you want to kill vision, form a committee. The committee will beat the life out of any innovation you bring to the table.
Most dying organizations have committees. Almost no growing organizations do. It’s an interesting observation.
3. You shouldn’t walk alone, but innovation may require you to start alone
Walking alone is a bad idea, but starting alone is sometimes required for true innovation.
The need to start alone or with a handful of people by your side is not that uncommon a phenomenon.
For example, when I launched my leadership podcast two years ago, almost all the advice I got was “keep it short…people have small attention spans” and “feature your ideas on the podcast.”
I didn’t want to do that. Instead, I wanted to do two things: bring a longer form podcast to the church space AND do it by featuring me interviewing other leaders. Every other podcast in the church leaders space at the time was shorter and featured the podcast subject interviewed by someone else.
Against most of the advice given to me, I launched the podcast as a 45-minute to 90-minute episode with me interviewing someone else. To be fair, I had seen this format done in other areas, but no one in the church space that I knew was doing it.
Now, 24 months later, people seem to love the format, and it’s caught on quickly. I’m not doing it alone anymore, but I had to start alone.
Sometimes that’s okay.
4. Great ideas gain consensus on the back end
So how do you know if you have a truly great idea?
Watch and see if people buy in on the other side of the launch.
What should happen is that as your idea gains steam, more and more people buy in until, on the other side of the launch, you have success.
The principle? Look for consensus on the back side of change, not the front side.
If no one buys into your idea over time, you probably have a bad idea.
Here are some ideas to get you started if you’re handling a divisive, innovative idea:
Don’t ask the team for agreement, just get permission.
Listen to people, but follow your gut.
If you’re wrong, take full responsibility.
When it emerges that you were right, be humble and invite others on the journey.
Ask yourself this
I realize these ideas are controversial. I realize acting on them might get you fired.
But would you rather look back in 30 years with regret at how many great ideas were anesthetized by a visionless committee or group?
Or… would you rather look back and be satisfied that you did everything in your power to bring about change, even if it got you in trouble?
Of course, the third option might be that you successfully ushered in the change that changed everything. But I’d even settle for trying, failing and getting in trouble.
This is not an excuse to be a jerk, but it is permission to be courageous.
So today, don’t look for consensus. Instead, be courageous.
What are your frustrations about consensus? Scroll down and leave a comment!