The President's Bookshelf: Absence of Dissent
February 3, 2015
by Steven Grabiner
Successful leadership involves many skills, some of which seem to be directly contrary to each other. A good leader needs to know how to facilitate consensus around a decision, so that it can effectively implemented. At the same time, team members need to engage in constructive conflict to help ensure that the final decision is a good one. Leaders need to think through the process of how a conclusion is reached, to avoid making many mistakes. The importance of blending these leadership traits is the subject of Michael Roberto’s Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer.
The book offers many practical pointers based on in-depth research of intriguing case. Divided into four parts, the first portion of the book lays the foundation by pointing out the necessity for healthy conflict and formulating a good decision making process. The second section emphasizes the dangers that can occur when good conflict is absent in an organization. One of Roberto’s chief examples was the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986. A lack of freedom to dissent appears to have been a major contributor to the disaster.
The third part stresses the need for building consensus and the danger of allowing a small group to hijack the organization through overt or subtle resistance. This can be manifested through a culture of “no,” where people tear down ideas without alternatives; a culture of “yes,” in which team members give the appearance of agreeing but work behind the scenes to undermine; and the culture of “maybe,” in which the decision process seems never ending. The final section gives guidance to leaders wrestling with these various issues.
Roberto’s wide research and depth of knowledge of interesting cases and situations provide very practical illustrations throughout the book. Anyone interested in improving their leadership skills in these areas will be benefited by learning why it is not always best to get a “yes.”