How many books have been written on this subject? I remember a decade ago there were two bestsellers out at the same time. The first suggested the key was “servant leadership” which meant the boss was there to serve his employees and to help them become all that they could. The second focused on “execution” and said the company should be run entirely as a meritocracy—get rid of the non-performers and keep firing/hiring until you had a good staff. I’ve read books that said the best bosses managed by “walking around” and others that said the only good bosses around were “hands off” bosses. One thing that seemed strange to me in this contradictory mess of advice was that every author was successful. A number of successful businessmen shared their advice on how to succeed and you couldn’t follow the advice of all of them.
Gradually, I came to the conclusion that the success of the authors (assuming they really followed their own advice) had less to do with their actions and their philosophies than it had to do with the fact that their behavior was consistent. The servant leader was a servant leader on Monday and a servant leader on Tuesday, Wednesday, and the rest of the week as well. Mr. Execution demanded the same performance on every day of the week. Employees went to work knowing exactly what to expect and they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel of behavior every single day. Perhaps, then, the single greatest attribute someone in management can have is consistency. I’m not ready to say it’s sufficient for success, but I think it’s a fair assumption to say that it’s necessary.
How does a manager (at any level) remain consistent in a world that’s changing so rapidly? I think the key is to consider the question from the perspective of consistency of aim or consistency of purpose rather than consistency of action. No, that doesn’t mean you get to be a sweetheart on Monday and an utter jerk on Wednesday. What I mean is that you can make your employees understand that your goals for the company are clear. When your actions are presented in light of your goals, they gain consistency even if the actions represent a change in direction. For example, assume your clear goal for a tech support department is a service level commitment and you’ve been harping on a policy you think will result in faster response time. Now assume the policy was a complete failure. If you change policy while explaining you were wrong about the policy’s results, and you need to try something else in order to meet the service level commitment, you’re consistent.
This isn’t the last post I’ll write about effective management, but I think it’s the most important. Employees know we’re human, and when we let them know that we’re aware of that as well, we gain rather than lose respect. Consistency is reassuring to an employee and by itself increases employee productivity by setting clear expectations that remain even when job duties are in flux.