Plants, Pets and People Need Consistency

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Have you ever forgotten to water a plant? Perhaps you went on an extended business trip, or the plant was tucked away in a corner, or you simply weren’t paying attention to how much time had elapsed since you last watered it. At that moment, it’s easy to compensate by over watering. Unfortunately, chronic over – or under – watering a plant will cause a plethora of problems, from wilting to root rot. Plants need consistent amounts of water (and sunlight and soil) to remain healthy.

Similarly, pets need consistency to thrive. You can’t allow a dog to jump sometimes, or only require it to sit occasionally.  Consistent behavior and discipline in pets come from an owner who is consistent in rules, expectations, and follow-through.

People are infinitely more complicated than plants or pets, but the premise is the same. As a leader, if you want your team to perform at their full potential, your behavior must be consistent.

Why Consistency Matters

A common heartache among leaders is that people won’t take initiative  – yet it is often a leader’s inconsistency that leads to that lack of initiative.

We’ve all had that boss who seems to have a new personality every few days. One day they’re open and fun-loving, chatting with staff, listening to ideas and telling a team to do the work however they see fit. The next day that same person is critical, nit-picky, and demeaning. They demand employees follow protocol and procedures that the leader has not cared about before.

This type of behavior not only confuses employees; it hinders them.  When people don’t know what to expect, they don’t do anything because they don’t know how to proceed. This behavior is called learned helplessness: employees waste time second guessing, stressing over every decision, and waiting for someone to tell them what to do because they’re afraid of doing the wrong thing. The result is fractured trust, frustrated people, and teams that don’t perform to their full potential.

How to Be Consistent as a Leader

Consistency helps build trust and trust is a foundation of effective leadership. Leaders can – and must – be a place of consistency and congruence for their people. This will enable your teams to quickly adapt without spending excess time trying to figure out how things should work.  Here are four strategies to help you become a more consistent leader:

 

  • Define clear expectations. My 70-pound dog is allowed on the couch only when I am sitting there, the couch is covered with a blanket, and he is invited. Consistency doesn’t mean all or nothing. It means knowing when a certain behavior is OK and when it isn’t.

 

Similarly, it’s important to establish rules and guidelines so people know what’s expected of them. Document your expectations to ensure everyone is on the same page. Revisit guidelines regularly to ensure they are still relevant and effective. This is especially vital in today’s changing times when expectations might need to adjust to accommodate new safety procedures or working from home.

 

  • Be congruent. This one is simple: walk your talk. Be straightforward and honest with employees, and if you say you’re going to do something, do it. What you say and what you do must match.

 

  • Be reliable. Predictability can be a good thing! Your team shouldn’t have to guess how you’ll act or react in certain situations. Reliable leaders keep their commitments and seek excellence in all they do.

 

  • Acknowledge and explain inconsistencies. When I hired a new marketing assistant, I gave clear guidelines for posting my content across multiple platforms. Recently, though, I needed to change the approach for one specific circumstance. I explained my reasoning and shared that this was a one-time change to accommodate a special situation.

 

As much as we try to be reliable and consistent leaders, inconsistencies will happen. Rather than try to sweep them under the rug, we need to acknowledge them, address them, and create an action plan moving forward. Whether it’s a one-time adjustment to accommodate a client project or a permanent change in company guidelines, it’s important to be open and honest about change and why it’s happening.

Consistency in Changing Times

If the current work climate has taught us anything, it’s that life is changing faster than ever. The emerging pattern of working from home and changing work/life balance is an opportunity for leaders to examine what behavior they are modeling to employees.

Take time today to inventory your leadership approach. Are you clearly defining expectations and addressing inconsistencies? Can your team predict how you’ll approach certain situations? Is there a strong foundation of trust based on positive past behavior, or do you need to work on being more clear and consistent with people?

No matter what approach you’ve taken in the past, you can begin today to build trust through consistency. So remember: water your plants on a schedule, make the dog sit every time, and make your mark as a consistent and trustworthy leader.

POSTED ON: Culture, Leadership, Team Development, Teamwork
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