If there is one consistency in the criticism of President Obama’s leadership it is his inconsistency – both in his statements and actions. I’ve previously written about how inconsistency devastates the credibility of any leader, but Obama’s latest actions in Syria gives reason to revisit the subject. After all, no matter what other talents or vested power a leader may have, if the followers cannot trust the consistency of a leader, the power to lead is effectively eroded over time.
Just last week President Obama once again changed course on the Syrian crisis. After years of professing that American ground forces would never be committed to the Syrian morass, Obama announced that a “limited number” of American Special Forces would support the Kurds in Syria fighting ISSL. This is just the latest – but probably not the last – inconsistency with words spoken, plans laid and promises made by President Obama that deal not only with Syria, but many other foreign policy issues as well. Any leader – political or business – needs to recognize that nothing destroys their credibility and effectiveness more quickly than an inconsistent approach to solving problems and achieving objectives.
These latest actions in Syria are emblematic of the problems President Obama has been confronted with because of a flaw in his basic leadership style and skills. President Obama has a unique ability to garner the initial trust of followers, but he lacks the ability to postulate a clear vision of his objectives and plans (if he has them) and to consistently keep that vision front and center. Unfortunately, Obama lacks the consistency of action that converts trust into effective leadership. Trust is the petri dish for the nurturing of leadership success, but inconsistency is a virus that can infect and weaken trust to such an extent that it ultimately immobilizes the power to lead. A leader who does not exhibit the consistency needed to back up trust loses it and soon becomes impotent and irrelevant.
Obama Does Not Vacillate Alone
President Obama is not alone in exhibiting a leadership weakness. He is probably more the norm than the exception, especially when it comes to business leaders. Anyone who has worked in the corporate world for any period of time has encountered and dealt with a boss who was inconsistent. You know the type; the boss who is always coming out with grandiose plans and pronouncements, but never seems to follow though. Worse yet is when you have a boss who says one thing one day and another the next day. Then you have the boss who wants to be your best friend this week, but will “rip you a new one” in front of co-workers the next week. How willing are you to stand behind a leader when you don’t know where the leader stands? How much are you willing to put it all on the line for a leader who keeps moving the line?
Leadership depends on trust to be effective and the secret to building that trust is consistency of purpose, words and action. What many leaders do not realize is that it is the little inconsistencies that wear away trust and prevent the achievement of even the smallest goals; let alone something really important. Personal style sets the tone for trust and consistency. It does not mean that a leader has to be a saint one day and the incarnation of the devil the next. Building credibility as a leader starts with the consistency of the leader, even if that consistency means consistently being a jerk. If a leader is going to set a standard – any standard – they have to stand by that standard. Being an effective leader does not mean that the followers necessarily like or agree with the actions of the leader, but it does mean that they can count on the leader’s consistency.
There are no short-cuts, tricks or gimmicks a leader can use to build trust through consistency of words and action, but there is a simple formula a leader can follow.
- The leader must clearly communicate and remain committed to the stated visions and objectives of the organization.
- The leader must always do what they say they are going to do and act the way they say they are going to act.
- The leader must always do #1 and #2 again and again.
In the beginning, middle and end, being an effective leader means being unwaveringly consistent in words spoken, plans laid and promises made.