When an individual in a leadership position doesn’t act or behave in a consistent manner, the people around him or her don’t know what to expect. People then must position themselves to be able to react to a wider range of responses from the leader. This means that instead of instinctively knowing what actions to take themselves, they have to waste thought and energy waiting to see which way the wind will blow. Usually, the leader winds up revisiting the same topic he or she address previously. If the leader were consistent, people would know how they are expected to proceed.
When the leader is inconsistent, people wait to act. They have to see what they will be asked to do before they take action. Even if they are nearly certain of the action they should take, they will hesitate. Delays can create risks, costs, and/or inconveniences for others. People can get injured; equipment or systems can fail; and at the very least, people are bound to be irritated.
Being consistent gives you leverage in the form of moral authority. When you are consistent, it’s easier to require others to be consistent. If you walk the talk, you can expect that others will walk the talk.
My definition of being consistent is always acting or behaving in a similar way. Looking to be more consistent? State with what you intend to be consistent. You need to be clear on your principles so that you can refer back to them when making decisions. When you’re evaluating a choice of action, ask yourself whether that choice is consistent with your principles. The principles will be statements that can be communicated and overtly demonstrated. Here are some of the principles that I believe work well:
- People come to work wanting to do a good job; the leader’s job is to enable them to do a good job.
- Praise in public; correct in private.
- Because a leader’s job is to enable his or her team to perform well, if a team or team member fails, the leader did not put that person in a position to succeed.
- Be disciplined in following guidance; keep guidance up to date.
- Challenge long-standing ways of doing things. There is always a better way to do things, and we all have suggestions and contributions to finding better ways.
- Let those who will live with a new policy, process, or procedure help create or modify it.
- Let people identify and solve problems at the lowest level.
- Give chances to expand the scope of what people do.
- Share information widely.
- Create motivational opportunities; have some fun; and foster healthy competition, good attitudes, and good morale.
These principles have worked well for me, and I learned them the hard way – by making mistakes – or by listening to leaders for whom I had great respect. You don’t need to use these exact principles, but whatever principles you arrive at should stand the rigors of your workplace. Whatever the set of principles at which you arrive, the key point is to stay consistent, even when it is uncomfortable to do so. The value in being consistent is that people know what to expect, so they can act accordingly.
There are a wide range of personality types. Some people are abrupt in how they talk; some are very soft-spoken. Some will play a little loose with the rules; others will be stringent in how they see compliance with policies, processes, and procedures. Many styles can work just fine, as long as you’re consistent. The leader who is consistently a little loose with the rules will have people around him or her who will be more willing to take risks. That may be good or bad, depending on the risks they’re taking. The consistently by-the-book leader will foster an atmosphere of no or little risk. That can be good or bad, depending on the situation.
When you think of the principles with which you chose to be consistent, remember the common reasons that good team members cite for leaving an organization: not feeling respected, being prevented from making major contributions, not being listened to, and not being provided with opportunities to take more responsibility or learn new things.
Being consistent is a way to empower others to act based on what they know the leader’s direction would be. It also is important in developing desired behaviors and culture.