If consensus is the handmaiden of compromise, then principals should exercise special awareness of the dangers of running a school through either practice.
History is replete with heroic figures who went against the tide of consensus to achieve great things. History is equally full of tragic failure where common sentiment was absolutely sure the course was right. In this era, it is well near impossible to achieve meaningful school reform through consensus. There will always be those who resist the new models.
If you choose to follow the WICS (Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity, Synthesized) model of leadership, the desire for consensus nearly negates one leg of that triad: creativity. Sternberg defines “creative” as “generating ideas and products that are novel, high in quality, and appropriate.”
Albert Einstein wrote, “That genius abhors consensus because when consensus is reached, thinking stops.” Other authors, from Thomas Kuhn—representing the hard sciences in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions—to Helen Sungaila—representing education administration with “The History of Education and the Study of Educational Administration”—have articulated the need for intellects standing outside the consensus to bring about meaningful reform. Consider this quote by Michael Crichton:
I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. […] Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. […] The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
If you find yourself “marching to a different drummer,” recognize you may be leading the band down the right path. At least have a healthy sense of skepticism about consensus as being the one true way.
Crichton, M. (2003, Jan. 17). “Aliens cause global warming.” Caltech Michelin Lecture. Retrieved from https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~scranmer/SPD/crichton.html
Kuhn, T. (1996). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Sternberg, R.J. (2007). WICS: A model of leadership in organizations. In R.P. Vecchio (Ed.), Leadership. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Sungaila, H. (1982). The history of education and the study of educational administration. The Journal of Educational Administration and History, (14), 62-65.
This article originally appeared in an issue of our monthly publication NorthStar for Principals.