Why we need consistency from our leaders         

Why we need consistency from our leaders         
By Paul Clifford

We have high expectations of our leaders.  Sometimes we expect them to work miracles.  However it’s fair to say many don’t make it any easier on themselves – particularly when they chop and change their approach and their decisions.  I think leaders would be more effective if they stuck to some fundamentals and consistently applied them. 

Consistency has to be one of the least quoted yet most important leadership qualities.  Why is that?  Because consistency builds trust and trust is arguably the most critical feature of effective leader-follower relationships. 

When leaders say one thing and do another we become confused and ultimately we stop listening.  We decide that if the leader doesn’t believe in what they say, how can we?  This leaves a leadership vacuum.  As we can only stand confusion for a short period of time, soon each of us fills that vacuum with our own decisions.  We take off in all directions but get nowhere of value. 

When leaders tell us one thing on Monday but contradict that on Wednesday we question their knowledge and capability.  “Do they really know what they are talking about or are they out of their depth?”  This type of inconsistency makes it hard for followers to get on with implementing the leader’s decisions.  “On Monday we thought it was ok to start working on a new product line or establishing an organising committee.  However, by Wednesday we realise we’ve just wasted two days of our time”.  The more frequently this happens, the less frequently work will even start at all.  Instead employees will be thinking “well it’s only going to change again in 2 days so let’s not waste time even starting”.  In an increasingly fast paced economy organisations will be left for dead if their employees are continually hamstrung by indecision.           

When leaders praise us one day and then castigate us the next, we start to avoid seeking them out with issues because even if the chances are small that we’ll get a whack we might not want to take that chance.  So our leaders never learn what’s really going on and problems get unresolved.  The intermittent scoldings undermine our confidence that the praise is genuine and morale goes down.  We continue to avoid our leaders and as such we never get any good feedback to help us improve our performance.     

They say in marketing you need to repeat the same message seven times before people start listening.  The same principle applies with leadership.  We are hard wired to seek consistency and we need consistency from leaders in both style and content so that we will keep listening. Consistency brings reassurance.  It garners trust.  What comes from this is confident follower behaviour in the right directions. 

Leaders shouldn’t try to over-complicate things.  Sometimes the best leaders have a simple recipe book – ingredients: operate on the basis of a few important principles; directions: repeat.  In a complex world that may offer some comfort.         

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Guest Monday, 22 January 2018