Wednesday 13 June 2018

Consensual Leadership at #WomenEd

John Pearce - webpage:

This is my unabridged "Consensual Leadership" talk at the #WomenEd Conference in Mansfield on 28th April.
An edited version was published in the Secondary Education SecEd Magazine on 13th June

Good Morning WOMENEd

I’ve found more common sense, emotional intelligence, compassion and thoughtful debate through #WomenEd than anywhere else.  So, I believe there’s more hope in this room, than most places I frequent.  Consensual Leadership is an idea I've been mulling over for months but not dared write up.  So, I thought, where better to explore this than in a presentation to a #WomenEd event?   

·         I want to share  What depresses me  and how it led me to hope
·         Float an idea about Consensual Leadership and
·         Offer a Model to Evaluate it

What depresses me…

I’ll just list Names:  Trump, Weinstein, Mike Ashworth (Boss of Sports Direct – less than 5 miles away from here in Mansfield) and some topics:  Fake News, Sexual Abuse, Grenfell Tower, Child Safety, Gender Pay gap, Social Media corruption, Windrush….

It all seems to be about the abuse of power….. unthinking selfishness, of the both the abusers AND their silent witnesses – who mutely watched.   We can all name someone who meekly watched the abuses we now know took place.  I guess each of us harbour some shame when we didn’t speak truth to power, grass up, whistleblow, or call out, “Not in my name” on some occasion when a bully was at play….  Shame on all Silent Witnesses.

It depresses me that so many of these named people, and the others you know, practise inadequate leadership by being, variously: coercive, dominant, gun-ho, oppressive, bullying, abusive and macho.  It’s even more depressing when these “styles” are prized by some observers, speaking of: authoritarian, decisive, strong, heroic…..  Then I realised what I was REALLY angry about were the non-consensual approaches. It's not just the style that you use it's the way that you use it...

Inadequate, 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’s likely the others were too frightened to disagree.  I’ve watched that happen – jumped in myself and got the bruises – but they do heal, over time.

It’s possible to read this as a cycle of doom…  and it will be unless we act.  "All that is required for evil....."  We have to break the cycle!  So, I want to explore how Consensual Leadership might be one way of doing just that…   (and I was thinking:  Who better to understand and do this than strong women?)

So….  Consensual Leadership – what is it?

Reasonable people, in the light of the abuses above, especially in the heat of #MeToo responses, are coming to accept that the best, PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS, especially but not exclusively sexual, are judged on whether they were consensual – literally judged in many cases (ref: Bill Cosby this week)

So, I began thinking privately, through the hurt of all this, and I’m now asking publicly - "Shouldn’t we apply the same standard in our WORKING RELATIONSHIPS?  Surely, they too must be consensual?"  We need to begin thinking about Consensual Leadership in order to model the kind of behaviours we want to nurture in those we lead, especially our students - the future leaders

My starter definition for Consensual Leadership:

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. 

and yes, it's about love, or at least, unconditional regard, respect, dignity of thought.

On the way…. Can we please stop heralding INDEPENDENT LEARNING as a destination, rather than a signpost for INTERDEPENDENT learning?  Independent implies “It’s all about me” which is how the notion of, “I’m all right Jack!” is perpetuated.  Thank God Jill arrived.  Thinking "I'm independent" is how macho leadership  begins and triumphs.  By the way, I looked for a female equivalent of Macho but couldn’t find one – significant?  One Thesaurus did offer “Feminism” but that doesn't work.  No…. Interdependence is a higher level of understanding than Independence because it means, “It’s all about us” including the dependent and vulnerable. It's also a stepping stone to consensus....

And as I'm pausing (ranting?) by the wayside I’ll also plead that we end that stupid notion that only Teachers teach and only Leaders lead.  We each do both…. Now back on the track….

I believe that when we, teachers and leaders in education, demonstrate Consensual Leadership, there will be fewer Trumps, Weinsteins and Grenfells….

So, how to encourage consensual leaders?   

I have long argued that, Judging the point and nature of intervention is our key skill as teachers and leaders i.e. choosing whether to intervene, or not, and then when and how to intervene to have a desired effect… in this case to instill, sustain and develop Consensual Leadership behaviours…..

Try this....

A Model to Evaluate Consensual Leadership


(Point And Nature of Intervention Needs Intelligence) 

OK it’s an awful acronym but you’ll remember it…

The model suggests that moving our behaviours from LEFT to RIGHT on the continuum will bring about consensual relationships.  Right Hand behaviours will facilitate INTERDEPENDENCE which is about working together.  It’s not that the LEFT is wrong – it’s recognising that too many Left Hand behaviours, too often, will tend to build dependence.  “Please Miss – what do you want us to do next?”  So, we ought to get to the Right Hand behaviours ASAP if we want to build capacity, encourage sharing and teamwork, “Hey…look at this – we can do it ourselves”.

Let's explore too, how it’s possible to TELL and INSTRUCT with agreement i.e. consensually.  “Let me show you first, in order that you will better do it when you have a go…soon”.  This will sound and feel very different from dominant, non-responsive hectoring TELLS and INSTRUCTS. “Do as I say (because I say so)  (because I am your boss - I am paying you)  (because I'm bigger/stronger than you!)".  Conversely, it’s possible to DELEGATE cruelly by dumping work on colleagues. It can also be dangerous to LET GO too soon, before students, or colleagues are ready.  Consensual leadership is about tone and manner too.  It is about knowing your people and  demands emotional intelligence.

So, I'm hoping that applying The PANINI CONTINUUM model will be about making appropriate choices.  It lets us judge that point and nature of appropriate intervention... as we try to foster consensus and interdependence.  It’s about we leaders building capacity in order to set free…

So, play with PANINI!  Use it to, “Look at what you do, with a view to doing it better next time”. Use it as a bookmark, stick on your notice-board, even your bedpost…

·        Shifting he bulk of your interventions to the right AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  Go on... Hand over responsibility – dare to trust.
You could
·       REVIEW something you led recently and how you might have deployed more of the right hand approaches – sooner and with more people…
·       Challenge yourself and others, about HOW and WHY you'll PLAN to use a range of CONSENSUAL styles in a new initiative..

So…… I’ve tried to say…

The world, globally and locally, will become less depressing if we give hope to those who have been and are still being abused by some in power.

Leadership is about creating the permitting circumstances for others to grow and learn to become Interdependent

I floated the idea of Consensual Leadership and argued that if we want our young people and colleagues to understand and apply Consensual Leadership in their Personal AND Working lives… we have to model it ourselves, in our day to day behaviours.

I’d love to talk more and develop this thinking with anyone interested…

email me on  
or via the contact page on my website

By the way..... there is an interesting POSTSCRIPT on the original post here