Lately, as I have been reflecting on a great year full of leadership challenges and personal growth. I have found myself confronting philosophical struggles when it comes to decision making as a leader. What I have learned is that there are basically only two types of leadership decisions. Decisions made either by (1) public consensus or by (2) personal conviction. I think there are times when leaders need to make decisions by consensus, especially tactical decisions where the people affected are the ones who will be doing the work. It makes sense to involve front line people to make the decisions that impact their daily duties. However, leadership decisions that involve vision and strategy requires personal conviction. If the vision and strategy fall into a pluralistic group that is more concerned about building consensus and political correctness, they will surely compromise the mission and the group will suffer.
So the issue isn’t always about which leadership style is right, in most cases it has to do with understanding the situation. I remember my Air Force commander contrasting the strategic 10,000 foot view with the tactical ground level view. My job was to recognize "front line" issues and take the initiative to clear the path so we would not be delayed. I learned to expect to hear two questions "Why did you make that decision?" and "What is the impact?". My Colonel wanted more from me than just an intelligent response, he was really looking for my understanding of the situation and demanded personal conviction.
Great leaders have the ability to make intelligent decisions while being governed by their heart. If you have to choose between public consensus and personal conviction then go with personal conviction. I am reminded in Matthew 16 when Jesus asked his disciples a question of public consensus "Who do men say I am?" and then followed with the question "Who do you say I am?". There is little doubt that the answer he cared more about was the one that required personal conviction, and as a leader, you can’t cast vision without it.