Learn to build consensus

By Younas Chaudhary

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Consensus building is bringing people together to find a common agreement. I learned this skill as a young boy watching my father resolve disputes in our village in Pakistan. My father was the village chief in one of the oldest systems of local government called “Panchayat,” (jury) a village council consisting of 5 selected elders who were chosen to settle disputes and build consensus. As village chief, my father was the final arbitrator and the one tasked to resolve conflicts in our village.

Younas Chaudhary

Our village council often met in a large room in our house and I would see how disputes were solved through consensus building. There were arguments about thieves stealing buffalos, roosters, and other livestock, and often complex cases of women being beaten and harassed by their in-laws. I watched how both sides debated and how a final decision was reached by the elders.

The elders were sharp, well respected, and decisive. They never procrastinated unlike our modern judicial systems that take a lot of time, money, and effort. The victim, the accuser, and their supporters were given enough time to make their case and the elders gave the final verdict. Often, I was in awe seeing the unconventional and creative problem-solving methods used by the elders.

This old school training in dispute resolution helped me later in life in building consensus and negotiating complex business deals.

Our Panchayat system focused on togetherness and shared beliefs. There was a feeling of community and the elders were revered. Once a decision was taken all it took was a handshake and our honor code made sure that promises were fulfilled.

I have used some of these principles when making hard decisions, like deciding to buy oil wells, drilling wells, and exploring new areas for oil and gas wells. I often had to build consensus among the landowner, the landman, the geologist, the engineers, and the management team. Often my mind went back to my childhood days and the wisdom of the elders and how they tackled situations successfully despite differences in opinion.

For instance, if we decide to drill an oil well on land and the geologist tells me the reservoir has the potential for 5 new wells, I will get a second opinion from another local geologist and reservoir engineer and I’ll consult with my team of engineers and ask for everyone’s opinion related to the risk and potential benefit. I check and cross check everyone’s angle and thoughts. The Panchayat taught me to take all their opinions into consideration before making my decision at the end, incorporating their best input.

This unique model, seeking the input of everyone and wondering what an elder would do, often drove my decisions.

Today, technology and the reliance on data helps us make quick decisions and reach consensus. However, I am a strong believer in the human touch, in conversations and collaborative work among people in finding solutions. Technology is only a tool for me and never an arbitrary decision-maker.

At the end of the day, whatever consensus you have built, stick to it even if your outcome is negative. Never play the blame game or point fingers at others because that is what destroys businesses and culture! Blessings.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.

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