What’s the difference between being consistent and being predictable? When you’re talking leadership, there are five ways consistency wins every time. It is important you not confuse consistent leadership with predictable leadership. While some believe predictable leadership is the equivalent of good leadership, it isn’t even close. Sadly, much of what passes for decision-making and leadership is really nothing more than a patellar reflex to the challenges within organizations and society.
You know the reflex I’m talking about. A doctor with a small medical reflex hammer strikes the large tendon in the leg just below the your knee–producing a sudden involuntary extension of the leg. This simple act–also known as the “knee-jerk” reaction–is far too common in political circles and hide-bound institutions. And of so little value in the world of leadership, especially in the 21st century.
In her TED X video presentation researcher and consultant Rosalinde Torres makes her case for what will make a great leader in the 21st century. She points out that “in a 21st-century world, which is more global, digitally enabled and transparent, with faster speeds of information flow and innovation, and where nothing big gets done without a complex matrix, relying on traditional development practices will stunt your growth as a leader.” She goes on to say that leaders in the 21st century are “women and men who are preparing themselves not for the comfortable predictability of yesterday but also for the realities of today and all of those unknown possibilities of tomorrow.” It’s worth watching.
When what’s needed is critical analysis and clear thinking, we too often witness the immediate unthinking and emotional reactions to events. Nearly everything has become fodder for the patellar reflex. Whether it’s a proposal for free access to community colleges, New York City’s proposed ban on expanded polystyrene containers, or establishing relations with Cuba, those opposing new proposals are often quick to defend things as they are. While that’s not totally wrong–a free and open debate is at the root of our democracy–too often these reactions overlook important shifting evidence and newly emerging ideas.
“Organization charts make great visuals but mean little if the critical work of the enterprise isn’t getting done.”
Sadly, this form of predictable leadership so often makes the problem worse. The world we live in is complex. So are its problems. Reverting to patterns of predictable leadership won’t help solve them. In fact, the unthinking and emotional response so prevalent among hide-bound leaders often overlooks the value and opportunity that might otherwise arise from new ideas. Educating people about ways to recycle polystyrene or exploring ways to make higher education affordable serve a meaningful purpose in society.
Many people confuse predictable leadership with consistent leadership. In truth, they are two ends of a long continuum. Predictable leadership is reactionary. Consistent leadership is visionary. Here are five ways to use consistent leadership to your advantage:
Be A Thinking Leader – Consistent leadership leverages values that underlie decision-making across the enterprise. Candor. Transparency. Clarity. Trust. Agility. If you believe happy employees are more productive employees, you have no choice but to align your behavior and culture. Consistent leaders live those choices every day, making time for conversations that matter.
Feel The Future – When you lead an organization you are always at risk for criticism, activism by social movements, or regulatory scrutiny. Consistent leaders deploy pre-emptive strategies preparing for those days to come. Rather than being reactionary and defensive, consistent leaders are able to respond with heart and sensitivity to the concerns of those critical of their company or industry. We’ve all grown weary of rote apologies and insincere expressions of concern by corporations. Being ready for inevitable failures or crisis in your industry will serve you. Be ready.
Unearth The Value of Teams – None of us does this work alone. Patrick Lencioni, the best-selling author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and a columnist for INC. magazine wrote earlier this year about his effort to accelerate the decision-making and responsiveness of his ten person headquarters staff. Whether you work with a small team or a large one, the need for leveraging their strengths and capabilities never goes away. Consistent leaders understand the importance of nurturing people to excel in their roles and creating the structures that allow them to do so. Organization charts are great visuals but mean little if the critical work of the enterprise isn’t getting done.
Grind It Out – Consistent leadership trains your teams to anticipate your questions, seek viable options, and bring you multiple “best solutions” to the challenges at hand. Strengthening your teams capacity to cradle uncertainty while seeking to sort out resolutions to conflict or conflicting ideas will pay huge dividends. One of the best things consistent leaders do is encourage and support those around them to be tenacious and persistent in addressing problems. Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 reusable rocket has failed to perform as expected on both take-offs and landing yet the engineers continue to chase solutions. They simply refuse to accept failure.
Be Your Best Self Leader – Among management and leadership theorists one consistent truth emerges. Consistent leaders who succeed know themselves. Self awareness,–recognizing the wake you bring to leadership, your emotional maturity and acknowledging both your strength and weaknesses goes a long way toward establishing the respect and trust of those essential to your success. Consistent leaders avoid undermining themselves by being predictable. Many leadership situations and circumstances seem familiar. Looking for the discrete differences will accelerate your own brand of consistent leadership and thoughtful decision-making.
Being a great, consistent leader is recognizing you don’t know it all. Having the courage and passion to grow your network and diversify the voices you listen to and the words you read helps immensely. Train yourself to think differently. As Steve Jobs reminds us, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice…have the courage to follow your heart.” Predictable or consistent? What’s your leadership style going to be tomorrow?