Mark Funkhouser a former Mayor of Kansas City has written an interesting post titled “Our Misguided Love Affair With Political Consensus”. Funkhouser states:
“Journalists seem to see the ability to build consensus as the epitome of political leadership, but in actuality political leadership almost never involves consensus. Consensus favors the status quo, not progress.”
Funkhouser’s point is great leaders that accomplish big items are polarizing figures not consensus builders. Recently I did an analysis of votes cast by the town board members where I reside (Tonawanda, NY), and I was shocked how few times members voted “no”. From 2008-2010 the Tonawanda Town Board voted on 3,179 items and during this three year period there were only 11 instances where any Town Board member voted “No”! In other words there were 3,168 instances of unanimous consensus. Seems like a whole lot of status quo to me.
I realize that the agenda of most local government meetings is pretty routine stuff but Funkhouser has a point. Leaders who are looking to challenge the status quo have many opportunities to vote “no” at a minimum. If you as a leader are serious about making a difference in your community then you have to be willing to address big controversial issues where strong opinions exist for and against change.
Do leaders have to be polarizing to make change happen or is building consesnsus where change happens?