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Molding Consensus through Relationships

| January 18, 2022

by Roger Weisenberg

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Roger Weisenberg, Director of Financial Technology, Office of Finance and Treasury, Princeton University.  He is a current MOR program participant.  Roger may be reached at [email protected].]
As we concluded our MOR Advanced Leaders workshop on influence last week, I found it interesting and appropriate that the timing of this session was just prior to the start of the MLK weekend.  On this national holiday we honor and remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his many accomplishments such as leading the civil rights movement and winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  All of his actions have had a significant and lasting impact on our society.  Following the workshop, I was reflecting on Dr. King’s achievements though an additional lens: influence.
In a 1967 speech Dr. King stated, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”  This lesson is especially evident in higher education, as in our workshop we identified some of the cultural challenges at our respective institutions with building consensus.  To overcome those challenges requires a leader who does not just plant the seed for a new idea with the hope that others adapt, but can cultivate the ideas so they can flourish by strategically building partnerships and support from others. 
In last week’s workshop we defined influence as a compelling force to impact the actions or behaviors of others. In reviewing the various influence strategies from our survey, I found it interesting how Dr. King effectively exhibited many of these strategies to achieve his success.  He was a detailed listener and invested in relationships as he built his network.  He delivered memorable sermons that provided an inspirational impact with vivid storytelling and arousing emotions, and at the same time included key points based on logic.  Dr. King modeled his teachings through peaceful protests, demonstrating that change can be achieved through exchange of ideas as opposed to violence.  In his “I Have a Dream” speech he offered a shared view of the future with a message of equality.
History books will often reference our nation’s most famous leaders as our elected government officials whose office provided them a natural platform of power.  Out of the eleven influence strategies, only one (directive) has any dependency on one’s organizational authority.  Dr. King never ran for political office, yet he is a leader who was successful at providing that compelling force that impacted others’ behaviors. 
As I reflected on these influence strategies, and looked for personal opportunities to improve, it became clear to me that they all entail the successful interactions with people.  We listed relationships as one of the eleven strategies, but in a way I find it to be a pre-requisite for all others.  Establishing those connections opens up the necessary avenues to recognize the hopes, dreams, pain points, and mutual interests of others.  This understanding is critical in informing one’s approach for many of the other strategies such as consultation, bargaining, logical debate, and inspiration. 
I often find myself in meetings or casual conversations trying to advance an idea of which I am not the primary decision maker. In the past I would lean on a strength, giving much thought in preparing for these conversations with logic-based arguments and anticipating potential criticisms.  And while those steps are still important, I realize I need to place even more emphasis on networking to establish relationships, understand the motivating factors, and building common ground with stakeholders.  I need to do this well in advance of engaging in the pitch of any new idea. 
As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and reflect on his many contributions, I am mindful of his ability to have such a strong and lasting influence on our society.  This influence was grounded in his genuine interactions with others and relationships developed over time.  It enabled a dream to evolve into ideas, and through his influence he was able to further mold those ideas over time until the dream could take shape into reality.