Uh, did you screw up the title of this article? You meant that a good leader is consistent right? No, and let me explain why.
I received a text message today from a colleague. After explaining a particularly frustrating experience this individual had with someone else under my leadership, the text said in part: “I would just recommend consistency across the board with this type of situation to avoid confusion or contention.”
First, I applaud this colleague for taking the time to clearly articulate his concern and frustration. Second, I applaud him for having the faith in me to be candid with me in a situation in which he perceived that I caused frustration. Third, I am grateful he chose not to be passive-aggressive and just come right out with it. (Passive-aggressiveness is a pet-peeve of mine, but we will save that for another day.)
From the text message I received today, it appears that a particular employee was not applying the same scrutiny to one project that they were to another. This created some confusion and frustration and could very likely still lead to some contention between employees in the very near future. Reading between the lines I am pretty sure the issue here is that one person sees the other as being hypocritical. They brought the issue to me and essentially gave me the feedback that I should do more to be consistent.
Here’s the deal, any leader who has attempted to teach correct principles and then delegate responsibilities to others to wrestle with and implement will inevitably get mixed results, inconsistent approaches, and misalignment of initiatives on occasion. What is the alternative? Doing everything him or herself and never letting anything fall through the cracks? First, that approach is the epitome of micromanagement. Second, you want to talk about bottle necks and red tape?
Studies show time and time again that, among other things, what leads to engaged employees is autonomy to do the work you have been assigned to do. Now, a good leader is one who takes the considerable time to define purpose, establish principles, and outline parameters in which each employee should work, but then that same leader needs to step aside and let employees run with ideas and try things out to get to the end goal.
Inevitably, when you are working with more than one human we are going to be inconsistent.
Part of my response to this colleague was that the only way I could be more consistent or at least more conscientious is if I made this particular project a larger priority in my day to day efforts. But I didn’t tell him that I was going to focus on that project. That isn’t my responsibility at this point. I don’t have the time to focus on that effort, and I gave it to someone else to do for that reason. Could I have been more consistent to help this employee feel less frustrated by what happened. Only if I didn’t delegate a responsibility to someone else to manage. When we give assignments to others we sometimes thrive and sometimes dive, but its worth the risk to give opportunities to other employees and to most effectively move the work or project forward.
Some of you might be wondering if I am going to bring this up with the other “hypocritical” employee. Certainly every employee needs to receive clear and consistent feedback to improve performance and if the opportunity presents itself I will take occasion to do it, but I am not going to make a mountain out of what I perceive to be a mole hill at this point.
As a postscript to this article, clearly I should not allow one employee to be abused by another and if there is favoritism or hypocrisy that needs to be addressed. But for the purposes of this article the key learning here is the executive can’t be in control of each and every aspect of the employment experience. It just isn’t practical, feasible, or sane.