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There is no escaping the fact that as people we are all psychologically conditioned to be liked by our fellow human beings. It is a basic human instinct to seek approval through our actions – whether we do that consciously or subconsciously.

That means that when business leaders go into a difficult or testing situation, the immediate reaction is to take a course of action that will keep the majority happy and satisfied.

However, as a decision maker there are always going to be occasions when a particular course of action is going to leave some feeling unhappy, even though it is the right path to take.

The recent downturn was a good example of how making those tough and difficult decisions at an early stage can lead to less pain in the long-term.

Job losses and redundancies in the UK at the height of the recession were actually at a lower level than most experts and commentators had predicted.

The reason for this was that many big firms took a flexible approach in terms of keeping wage settlements to a minimum and in some cases asked their employees to work reduced hours.

Not everyone was happy to see their incomes cut but in the long term it helped to mitigate the number of redundancies, and the flexible approach meant the economy is now stronger and in a much better position to recover.

But as well as having the strength to take the difficult decisions, part of being a good leader is about the ability to make those who work for you understand and accept why you have opted for a particular course of action. Motivation and morale are key components of any successful business, and nothing damages them more than a leader who doesn’t take their staff into consideration.

One of the most important ways of creating consensus is simply through good communication. As a boss it is not enough just to make decisions and then expect people to follow you without question. The key is to explain the reasoning behind the decision and the thinking behind the business strategy. Don’t assume that people who aren’t at senior level are unable to grasp what is going on. Everybody in the organisation should be highly valued and they all deserve to know the thinking behind big decisions, which could impact them.

Take the time to engage with your employees so you can nail down exactly how they will be affected by any decisions. Many companies pay lip service to the idea of listening to their staff, but not all of them actively take the time to gauge their opinions.

It is also vital to win the trust and support of your team. This is something which gets easier the more you communicate and the more you get results. If you can prove that in the end your approach will yield benefits then it is going to be much easier to win the backing of your staff.

Coercion will only ever work as short-term approach but the truly great leaders are the ones who create that spirit of consensus through their words, actions and decisions.

James Caan

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