Consistency – A Critical Leadership Trait
When I say “consistency,” I am not advocating that all leaders act the same. What I mean is that whatever style, management techniques, or leadership traits you employ—implement them consistently. A leader must be predictable, as consistency and predictability are positive traits that provide stability for the organization. Most work environments are very dynamic, involving a virtual whirlwind of change, and the leader must provide stability “anchors” wherever possible.
Consistency in style, management techniques, and leadership traits are important anchors for any organization and contribute to a stable work environment. If you have ever had the unfortunate opportunity to work with or for, or to observe a leader who is inconsistent, you can attest to the frustration and problematic nature of the work environment the inconsistent leader creates.
Inconsistent leaders sometimes require a lot of detail, and on other occasions require little detail. Sometimes they want you to seek their approval, then later question why you brought the same kind of approval request to them. Sometimes they give permission to speak to external stakeholders and sometimes they don’t.
The bottom line is the people working for inconsistent leaders often spend unnecessary time wondering how to proceed or harboring resentment because they cannot predict what the leader wants. This essentially slows down the organization’s speed and reduces its effectiveness.
Consider the quote from Gracián in the book The Art of Worldly Wisdom: “A wise person is always consistent in his best qualities, and because of this he gets the credit of trustworthiness. If he changes, he does so for good reason and after good consideration.”
Trust is rooted in consistency. Are you trustworthy? Do you fulfill your commitments? Trust is the foundation of successful leadership, and you must first be trustworthy and then accept the challenge to create ever-increasing relationships of trust between you and your organization and among the organization members themselves. Trust doesn’t happen automatically. It happens over time, presuming individuals are trustworthy. Team-building initiatives, whether formal team meetings or informal group activities, can accelerate the development of trust.
Consistency also means defining expectations. Let people know what they can expect from you and what you expect from them. Recognize that you are not exhibiting trust if you violate the expectations you give others. Often leaders idealistically overpromise concerning goals they aspire to but have not yet achieved.
A classic and often repeated example is the leader who advertises an “open-door” policy. This leader states that he or she will always listen, but from the team’s perspective, although the door may always be open, the leader is usually not there on the other side of it, and when he or she is there, it never seems to be a good time to talk. Do not overpromise about things you may not be able to deliver. When you do not deliver what you promised, others will view your actions as a violation of trust.
Establish Personal Rules
I recommend that you establish a set of rules for yourself that you make your team aware of. For example, when a new team member comes on board, provide the overall rules as guidance when it comes to working with you.
The key is to make others aware of your preferences and style so they can quickly adapt with a minimum of time spent trying to figure you out. Describe yourself as you are and not as you want to be. We are not perfect. You may even lead the list with one or more negative trait(s). We all have them. You must know what yours are.
Finally, let your team know that on rare occasions you may have to be consistently inconsistent. In other words, circumstances may arise that require that you deviate from your usual course of action. For instance, you may not be able to grant the same freedom/authority level to a project manager with two years’ worth of experience that you would to a project manager with thirteen years of experience.
Recognize that when you have to be inconsistent, you must offer extra communication to explain the inconsistencies; otherwise, trust questions will arise. (Know that just because your team doesn’t verbalize these questions, this does not mean they don’t silently harbor them.)
A good statement to make to your team is “if you see me being inconsistent, please challenge me on it because it means I don’t understand the situation or I have not communicated effectively.” Giving them the permission to challenge you eliminates a lot of silent resentment and the corresponding passive-aggressive behavior resulting from the silent resentment.
In the end it is all about communication. What we say and more importantly our actions should be consistent as that is strong leadership.
Adapted from The Handbook of Program Management
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