- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

‘You can have any colour of leadership as long as it is white’. This is our “Ford translation’ in organizations.

Henry Ford said that you could have ‘any colours of a car as long as it’s black’. The colour to avoid in leadership is actually white. Our consensus systems (of management, of leadership, of project management, of ‘culture of’) are white. White from the start, sometimes. The ancient colour of purity.

We need Newton. He brought it a prism and demonstrated that white light was actually a combination of the rest of the colours. You just did not see it. If we lead in white, we miss all the colours. White is the colour of total alignment and consensus, a clean a pristine colour with a lot of happiness around. This is what you see. Without a prism.

I wrote just a few hours ago about ‘In praise of tension. Consensus as permanent state in the organization, is collective coma’ [1]. This Daily Thought, together with 3 Inconvenient truths about leadership and change [2], have rocketed in readership and comments like never before, including Linkedin Pulse. This says, issue of leadership still bother us. And, consensus, in particular, is a hot leadership issue: how to reach it and how to avoid it, at which times. Ah! The tension.

In the last hours, consensus has been reached in the Paris talks on Climate Change. Not widely publicized, this little note in The Guardian [3], gives us some insights into some of the ‘mechanisms’ used to reach that consensus.

The French hosts have adopted a traditional South African negotiating format to speed up decision-making and bring opposing countries together in Paris.

Zulu and Xhosa communities use “indabas” to give everyone equal opportunity to voice their opinions in order to work toward consensus.

They were first used in UN climate talks in Durban in 2011 when, with the talks deadlocked and the summit just minutes from collapse, the South African presidency asked the main countries to form a standing circle in the middle of hundreds of delegates and to talk directly to each other.

Instead of repeating stated positions, diplomats were encouraged to talk personally and quietly about their “red lines” and to propose solutions to each other.

By including everyone and allowing often hostile countries to speak in earshot of observers, it achieved a remarkable breakthrough within 30 minutes.

In Paris the indaba format was used by France to narrow differences between countries behind closed doors. It is said to have rapidly slimmed down a ballooning text with hundreds of potential points of disagreements.

By Wednesday with agreement still far away, French prime minister Laurent Fabius futher refined the indaba by splitting groups into two.

“It is a very effective way to streamline negotiations and bridge differences. .It has the advantage of being participatory yet fair”, said one West African diplomat. “It should be used much more when no way through a problem can be found.”

‘To form a standing circle in the middle of hundreds of delegates and to talk directly to each other’: I would call that a no-escape strategy. The circle was the Newton prism. All the colours could be seen. Eventually there was a white. At least for now.

Leadership can’t afford colour blindness, after all. The organization is rainbow. Keep it like this. Much better than pure white.