Dave Gray

Have you ever had a boss:

  • you didn’t trust?
  • who frustrated you by changing priorities and expectations almost daily?
  • who described his entire team as difficult?

These examples indicate the same problem: leadership inconsistency, producing fear, lack of trust, and/or inaction. Inconsistency is so prevalent that it’s often the subject of humor.

You may have heard of the man who had six children and was so proud of his achievement that he started calling his wife “Mother of Six” in spite of her objections.

One night they went to a party. The man decided that it was time to go home and wanted to find out if his wife was ready to leave as well. He shouted at the top of his voice, “Shall we go home now, Mother of Six?”

His wife, finally fed up with her husband’s lack of sensitivity, shouted back, “Anytime you’re ready, Father of Four!”

The subject of inconsistency may cause a chuckle, but when it comes to leadership, inconsistency is no laughing matter. Consistency in word and action is a matter of integrity, and no one expresses it more succinctly than Dr. Lillian Bauder, one of twelve leaders I interviewed for my upcoming book, The Unstoppables, in which I discuss how twelve women leaders reached the top.

Dr. Bauder, a pioneer and leader in the academic, cultural, and corporate arenas, served as transformational President and CEO of Cranbrook Educational Community for thirteen years before transferring to the corporate world where she became the Vice President for Corporate Affairs at Masco Corporation and Chairman and President of Masco Foundation. She stated: The most effective leader must have integrity; your word really does have to be your honor. Many leaders don’t understand that integrity is absolutely critical to their effectiveness.

I’m not just talking about consistency in doing what you say and saying what you do. It’s about speaking the truth, doing the right thing, standing up for what is right and speaking up against what is wrong at all times. It’s about consistently upholding the highest principles of ethics and fairness and justice in every aspect of your life.

You have probably known leaders who talk about the importance of good communication, but never return a phone call or an email in a timely manner, if at all. Maybe you’ve experienced a boss who asks you to make one thing a priority one day, and then constantly shifts priorities, leaving you baffled as to what you should actually be working on. Perhaps you’ve witnessed a leader who talks about fairness and then plays favorites, holding some responsible for adhering to company policies, but who looks the other way where others are concerned. Then there’s the leader who seeks collaboration and teamwork, and the following day explodes over the slightest disagreement or mistake—all examples of unreliable, inconsistent leaders.

A friend of mine had a doctor who was anything but consistent. Though she felt her doctor highly competent, my friend never knew who she would see coming through the door to the patient room. One time the doctor would be warm and friendly and take time with my friend, and the next time, the doctor would be abrupt and make rude remarks. Her doctor’s inconsistent mood engendered fear in my friend, who eventually sought another doctor.

The significance of consistency came to mind when reading an interview that was done with John Duffy, chief executive at 3C Interactive, a mobile technology company.  Mr. Duffy, when asked about this leadership approach, said, “Consistency is important to me. I think my partners and employees appreciate the fact that you get the same John Duffy every day, regardless of circumstances.”  He went on to say that it was important to him that people never have to worry about his mood on a particular day.

I work with leaders at all levels of the organization, and complaints about an inconsistent boss are common. Inconsistency breeds distrust, and distrust leads to inefficiency, poor morale, and a disengaged workforce.

Be your own best coach.  Ask yourself the following:

  • How would my employees and/or peers label me? Consistent or inconsistent? Why? What proof do I have?
  • Answer the following:
    • Am I on time?
    • Do I do what I say I will do in the time I say I will do it?
    • Am I clear about my priorities for my direct reports or am I constantly shifting what’s most important from day to day?
    • Am I someone who handles unexpected situations with calm—every time?
    • Do I hold myself to the same standards as I do others?
    • Am I fair to everyone or do I play favorites?
    • Am I willing to confront for poor performance or when an uncomfortable issue arises that necessitates a tough conversation or do I avoid it?
    • How would my employees and/or peers say that I handle disagreements or mistakes?
    • Would others say that my mood is consistently positive?
    • Do I hold myself accountable?
  • What other questions should I ask to develop greater awareness of my level of consistency?
  • What has been the impact of my consistent or inconsistent behaviors?
  • If I could improve my consistency in just one area, what would I do differently? What benefit would that bring?

Once you become aware of any inconsistencies and wish to make progress toward real change, try the following:

  • Take time for personal reflection every day. You need white space in your life if you are to become more self-aware. Awareness is the beginning of change.
  • Choose two or three people you trust to give you feedback on any inconsistencies they recognize in your behavior.
  • Share the behavior you’re working on with your feedback partners and ask them to give you specific feedback on that area of development.

Don Yaeger sums it up beautifully for us: In the end, leadership comes down to consistency and strong, confident action upon which the team can rely – and this doesn’t mean imposing a bunch of rules. Consistency does imply having a good understanding and awareness of you—essential to leadership effectiveness.

© 2015   Mary Jane Mapes All rights reserved.

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