Review :

Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes for an Answer: Managing for Conflict and Consensus
Michael A. Roberto
Wharton School Publishing

Roberto carefully organizes his material within four Parts. In Chapters 1 and 2, he provides "a conceptual framework for thinking about how to diagnose, evaluate, and improve strategic decision-making processes. Then in Chapters 3-5, Roberto focuses on the task of managing conflict (e.g. factors that can inhibit candid dialogue and debate). Next, in Chapters 6-8, he concentrates on how managers can "create consensus within their organizations without compromising the level of divergent and creative thinking." In Part IV (Chapter 9), Roberto shares his thoughts about how this book's philosophy of leadership and decision-making differs from conventional views held by many managers. "Specifically, I distinguish between two different approaches to `taking charge' when confronted with a difficult decision." He devotes an entire chapter to differentiating between the two approaches.

Throughout Roberto's lively narrative, there is a strong recurring theme: "leaders must strive for a delicate balance of assertiveness and restraint." One challenge is to be able to do either effectively. Another, greater challenge is to know when each approach should be taken. In this context, Roberto has much of value to say about great leaders as great teachers: "They prepare to decide just as teachers prepare to teach. They have a plan, but they adapt as the decision-making process unfolds. Great leaders do not have all the answers, but they remain firmly in control of the process through which their organizations discover the best answers to the toughest problems."

As Roberto well realizes, there are specific reasons why Dante reserves the last (and worst) ring in hell for those who, in a moral crisis, preserve their neutrality. Some decisions require courage, others require judgment, still others must be made quickly and often with insufficient information. How and why are great leaders able to make such decisions, either alone or in consultation with others In essence, that is what Roberto's book is really all about.

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