Unity, not unanimity

Friday, August 26th, 2011

It is the prime duty of leadership to develop and implement strategies to build unity in our designs to serve, rather than look out for unanimity. Whereas opinion of various colors and hues is not only the acceptable, but rather the absolute desirable part of socio-political dynamics, we seem to be treating so called “unanimity” as the real goal.

These two terms are not synonymous, and more often than not, they may even demand different mindsets. The views of the majority shall prevail and hopefully be recognized as the collective will. Having reached conclusions only after deliberations and discussions, the decisions are expected to project and promote unity. However, what we have noticed is the growing tendency to take pride in making declarations of unanimity in the process of making such decisions.

Why I have chosen to use the words “so called” is because it is really not possible for a group of individuals to think and believe in the same manner with respect to every situation at all times. Differing points of view are more often than not regarded with contempt by those in official positions. Criticism is confused with political opposition; contrary view is regarded as not being a team player; interpreting issues differently is labeled as defiance; suggesting creative outlook is referred to as street smartness; and, taking a stand of conviction is pronounced as rebellion. It is a real pity that most of us have come to believe in sounding and appearing as members and leaders of unanimous groups. What we do not realize is that we are encouraging individuals:

  • Not to think in their own capacity;
  • Not to experiment and explore better ways of doing things;
  • Not to develop creativity in thought, planning and action; and
  • Not to suggest alternative solutions to some critical challenges.

We may be oblivious of the fact that we may be discouraging the right kind of future leadership to blossom, as we start promoting and admiring those who can be termed as “yes men”. It is common knowledge that until and unless people are convinced that leaders in any organization appreciate candid expression of opinions, and that contrarians are respected for the freshness that they bring to the organization, they do not feel comfortable and satisfied in stretching themselves. It needs to be demonstrated that leadership regards and rewards variance of views from the generally followed mannerisms. What may appear to be otherwise ridiculous and unpractical may turn out to be the trend of the future. We are so used and adjusted to the lens that we have been using for so many years to view and judge situations that any suggested change of this lens registers in the radar of our minds the signal of an alien attack.

Organizations that make it a part of their culture to invite and encourage their constituents to speak openly and give them the right to differ are the ones who continue to remain market leaders. Their pool of ideas becomes large, and each idea goes through a process of filtrations that keeps virus away. Their members have a sense of belonging because they feel respected for their own worth and each decision has ownership to back its execution. Even if everyone’s view cannot be a part of the final course of action, the fact that everyone had the right to participate freely and without fear of any kind binds them stronger in the ultimate analysis. That is “unity”. If sometimes we can have real “unanimity”, that may be fine, specially on points of principle and at times of crisis. But nowhere must we project and accept that it is the job of a select few to think and initiate ideas, and that it is expected of others to follow blindly–that cannot be a rule.

If your cabinets, councils and boards are not experiencing this “unanimity fatigue”, you are blessed. Will you please share your best practices? And in case you are also caught up in this feverish fatigue, will you suggest where and how we could make a beginning?


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