In times of tension and stress – which will always come – the consistency of the leader will determine the strength of leadership.
Concrete is the most popular building material used by man. It is extremely strong from a compression standpoint. That means that concrete can’t easily be squeezed out of shape and it bears heavy loads well. But when it comes to meeting tension pressure that requires stiffness and rigidity, it tends to be weak and needs the insertion of reinforcing steel bars (rebar) to maintain its durability and strength as a building block.
Leadership is much the same. The mantel of leadership brings with it a certain natural compression of power. Those in positions of leadership are granted structural authority to make decisions and determine actions. And that works well so long as there is no tension or stress in the process of leading. But in the real world there is tension and stress that always weakens leadership that is based only on structural authority.
The Rebar For Leadership
Just as with concrete there is a form of rebar that can be added to leadership that strengthens it in any environment. This rebar for leadership is consistency. It is consistency in philosophy, principles and actions. Leadership is strengthened when the leader communicates a clear philosophy that is never altered. Leadership is reinforced when the leader espouses fundamental principles of engagement that are adhered to without equivocation. Leadership is fortified when the leader consistently takes actions that are in harmony with a stated philosophy and set of principles.
You probably know from experience that the worse type of boss or leader is the one who is inconsistent. It is difficult to put it on the line for a leader when you don’t know what they stand for or where you stand with them. How frustrating is it to work for a boss who has a reputation for saying one thing but doing another? How do you feel about a leader who treats people and issues one way one day and another way another day? How much confidence can you have in a boss who has a history of being influenced by the last person in their office?
When you come right down to it, followers value consistency in their leaders more than anything else. Consistency is the basis upon which a leader can build trust and it is trust that strengthens leadership because it encourages followers to follow. On the other hand, consistency does not mean the leader must be a “good guy” or always easy to deal with. But it does mean that to be consistent a leader can’t be open and inclusive one day and a demanding tyrant the next day. People can learn to deal with and follow a “bad boss” just so long as he or she is consistently bad.
Lack of Consistency Shows a Lack of Leadership Ability
The best real-life laboratory for studying the impact for a lack of consistent leadership is the political world. Nothing opens up a politician to derision more than a lack of consistency. Critics know that voters yearn for consistency in their leaders, so they pounce on any inconsistency as a sign of weakness and loss of credibility.
Perhaps you remember the famous John Kerry quote in the 2004 presidential election against George Bush. Kerry said, “I was for the Iraq war before I was against it.” This apparent indecisiveness and inconsistency made Kerry look like a weak leader and this perceived unpredictability was constantly used against him in the campaign.
Then there was the famous George H. W. Bush quote given during his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican Convention. Bush said, “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Four years later, after agreeing to raise taxes during his first term, that quote was used by the Clinton forces to portray Bush as a weak and inconsistent leader.” Of course we could go on and on with examples of inconsistencies that have come back to damage politicians, but that is just the reality of politics. In the real world inconsistent leadership can be even more damaging. Likewise, exhibiting consistent leadership always strengthens the leader; greatly enhancing effectiveness and the chance for success.
Benefits Gained From Practicing Consistent Leadership
- Consistency allows a leader to build credibility with followers. When followers come to trust that what the leader says, it is what the leader will do it allows them to move forward with confidence on the leader’s directives. They don’t have to waste time worrying about whether the leader will change their mind or direction.
- Consistency allows the leader to reinforce their vision and objectives of the organization. When the vision remains constant and the objectives unvarying, followers clearly understand the decisions made and will be comfortable working toward their implementation.
- A leader must establish a consistent set standards of performance and accountability for themselves and others. How can a leader hope to enforce accountability — something critical to success – if the standards for performance are unknown or inconsistent?
- Consistent, transparent and open communication from a leader enhances cooperation in the entire organization that strengthens the power of the leader. When leaders fail to consistently communicate the followers are left in the dark. And when followers are in the dark about the objectives, decisions and actions of the leader they can only be herded, not led.
- Consistent leadership above all builds trust in the leader and it is trust that gives the leader power.
In the end, effective, powerful leadership simply comes down to consistently being the same leader today that you were yesterday and will be tomorrow. When followers can rely on that type of consistent leadership – good or bad – they will follow and the leader will be consistently successful.