I have long believed that in all walks of life but, especially, in the leisure business, leadership must be by consent.

I have found this to be the case in all the leadership roles I have fulfilled, from my youth movement, through University, through communal leadership and now to my Chair roles in the sport and leisure industries.

Leadership is by consent. A leader, and the organisation they lead, must establish their right to lead with their stakeholders, and the stakeholders must continually consent to their leadership.  That is fine, and easy to achieve, when things are going well, when confidence is high, when results are positive and well received. But, when things are not going so well, questions can arise among stakeholders as to your entitlement to lead. “Who elected you?”. “You don’t speak for us”. These are all questions and accusations that can be levelled at you.

How do you establish leadership by consent?

My view is that consent to leadership is established by ones personal approach. You gain consent by displaying strong leadership qualities and by taking good decisions. It is by being personally, and ensuring the organisation you lead is, humble, responsive, transparent, accessible, authentic, honest, open and being available for your stakeholder base to talk to. At all times, it is important that you and the organisation you lead, has and acts with integrity. If you make a decision, be answerable for it. You will believe the decision you have taken is right. Be prepared to explain your reasoning. Be open and transparent.

Good leadership involves good communication

Part of establishing consent involves good and crisp communication. Stakeholders abhor a vacuum, especially those in sport. They tend to think the worst and come to the wrong conclusions. As a leader, your job is to ensure that the decisions that are taken are the right ones for the organisation based on the circumstances before you. Not all decisions will be right and not all will be popular. But, a good leader will stand up for their decisions, explain what they have done and why and communicate in a way that allows those affected to feel listened to.  If you take a decision that you believe is right, and it is made in a public domain, be prepared to come out and explain it together with your reasoning. Be open and transparent. In that way, if people want to take pot shots or criticise the decision, at least they understand the basis on which a decision was made.

Leaders should be available

A leader should avoid giving the impression of being inaccessible or in an “ivory tower”. Leaders should be prepared to respond to comments, E Mails and especially to criticism. There is no need to be defensive. Be open, honest and self-confident.  Be ready, once you have made a decision, to stick with it.

Social media provides a challenge to this. If one responded to every opinion on social media, especially in environments where nuance is not a factor (such as, for example, Twitter), there would be little time to do anything else. But a well chosen and visible intervention on social media can be helpful. However, a leader, especially in sport, needs to develop a thick skin when social media criticism and insults begin to mushroom.  A leader should be ready for, and able to, deal with criticism.

Personal Characteristics

To lead with consent, a leader must display honesty, humility, show no signs of arrogance, be representative, responsive and inclusive. Many people hate a club that they can’t join so being inclusive is an important characteristic.

It is also important to meet the expectations of the community or group that you re leading. You should be prepared to anticipate what it is that your stakeholders want. It helps to have mechanisms to consult with your stakeholders or those who represent them, to take the temperature, even if it does not need a formal consultation. The more you know and the more you can anticipate what is expected of you by those in your stakeholder group, the more consent you will have for your leadership.


If you understand that leadership is by consent, then you will concentrate on having the right personal qualities, of being open, honest, transparent and accessible, of communicating well and openly and anticipating and constantly checking the needs and wishes of your stakeholder group.