To many people, the worst kind of leader is not a strict one, or a demanding one, or even a mean one. People can adjust to almost any kind of leadership style, so long as they know what to expect. When a leader’s expectations differ from day to day, though, it becomes difficult for anyone to follow. Further, when a leader treats people differently based on his/her mood, those people not only have difficulty performing their tasks, but in fact lose respect for that leader. As such, more than anything else, a leader needs to be consistent in his/her approach to leading.
Emerson Weighs In
Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” There are, indeed, times when consistency should be overruled by common sense. If a particular approach to a problem proves to be ineffective, it is foolish to continue to apply the same approach. Moreover, if a person does not respond well to a particular leadership tactic, it makes sense to apply another. Consistency does not require inflexibility. Once an approach does work, though, a leader should be consistent in applying that approach.
Further, a shift in approach should not be construed as inconsistency, so long as the shift is deliberate, and applied for a good reason. The danger comes when a leader changes approaches and strategies constantly, with no reason for the change or the timing. Day-to-day consistency, particularly in the way a leader works with team members, is the key.
The Human Element
People are, on the whole, adaptable. A person who is used to a certain type of behavior can learn to adjust to something else. Further, people want to do well at what they do, and to be recognized as doing so, whether explicitly or implicitly. Leaving someone no opportunity to adjust to a pattern of behavior, and no way to know whether his/her contributions are recognized, will hinder that person’s productivity, self-image, and interest in following guidance from a leader.
A leader does not need to lavish praise on someone for doing the expected, and s/he does not need to arrive in the same mood every day. In fact, no one can control completely how s/he feels from day to day. How one responds to the way one feels, though, is a choice, and one that must be made every day. Personal problems or illness can be daunting, and it can be natural to seek a cathartic release. Taking such things out on those working for you, though, will both alienate team members and lead to the leader feeling worse, not better.
Interestingly enough, though, being nicer than usual can present problems as well. Just as much as snapping at team members more than usual, acting nicer than team members have come to expect will alert them that something is wrong, without necessarily telling them what it is. People tend to personalize most information; if something is wrong, it is normal for someone to assume it involves him/her – even if someone tells that person otherwise.
Whatever approach a leader has developed, s/he should continue to use as long as it remains effective. This allows team members to develop their own routines, and find the way they can most effectively work under their leader. While flexibility is important, it should come from within the calming framework of a consistent approach.