The importance of consistency when so much is inconsistent

By Heather Campbell

Hope all is well with you and yours. Sorry I missed you last week. 

Truth is, I couldn’t decide what to write about. My mind couldn’t settle on one relevant topic because, more than ever, the business leaders I’m speaking to seem to be in such different places at the moment. 

Some are stressed because business is booming, some are stressed as major redundancies loom; a few are starting new, exciting roles, others are marking time to see what happens to their jobs over the next few months or have already been made redundant; some are celebrating significant bonuses, others are dealing with pay reductions.

There’s inconsistency in the media too. While I am partial to the occasional foray into those versions that focus more on the latest celebrity romances or break-ups, following even the quality outlets, I find so many inconsistencies that I regard everything as either exaggerated or as fake news.

Chatting with close friends and family, we are all having very different experiences in personal life too. Where normally we’d all be swapping stories about summer holidays just taken or about to happen, the very topic of holidays quickly leads to clear divisions about everything from the right approach to quarantine, the wisdom or otherwise of overseas holidays and whether or not it’s safe to jump on even an internal flight. 

So, perhaps it’s time to adapt the old adage ‘ “Change is the only constant in life” (wise words attributed to Heraclitus, who lived some 2,500 years ago) to ‘The only consistent experience is that all our experiences are inconsistent, especially now”. Not sure my adaptation will be around in the year 4,500, but if you’re reading this in the future and can travel back in time, let me know you’ve come across it ?.

But, back to July 2020, I’ve been reflecting on what leaders can do consistently to lead well when there is so much inconsistency around.

I think this boils down to one thing. Provide some much-needed good consistency for your team. Be the shared workplace touchpoint for all of them. The more senior your leadership role, the wider the impact this will have.

Good consistency is essential because:

  • It builds trust in you as a leader. Whether you are likely to be re-structuring, reducing in size or growing over the coming months, the changes will be easier for everyone if people trust you. If you are asking people to put in some extra hours to get back up-to-speed or take a cut in pay, trust in you will encourage people to engage positively, maintaining motivation and morale. 
  • It reduces fear and worry. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so the human mind abhors uncertainty. In fact, research has shown that we’d rather know that something bad is going to happen, than face uncertainty. As a leader, you can help to minimise uncertainty, even in uncertain times, by being that consistent touchstone on which people can rely. Alleviating unnecessary fear and worry is kind on a human level, and a responsibility on a leadership level.
  • It keeps a sense of consistency and connection across your team or organisation. Inconsistency can quickly breed a sense of unfairness between people – “the grass is greener over there”, “they’re having an easier time”. A sense of unfairness will quickly breed anger, and anger breeds unhealthy conflict. Unhealthy conflict is a waste of effort, energy, and time. None of these is in sufficient supply for any of us to waste them. In contrast, when we feel positively and consistently connected with one another, we are more likely to be supportive and understanding of one another too.

But these benefits arise from good consistency. You can be consistently bad too and that will bring about quite different results.

Here are three things you can do to demonstrate good consistency – if you’ve read my emails over the last few months, you’ll have seen these points being raised consistently throughout.

  1. Consistently share information honestly and openly so that you keep people up-to-date; do this even if you don’t feel you have anything new to share. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the human mind abhors uncertainty. Sharing that there is nothing new to share is valuable in itself. Share ‘why’ as well as ‘what’ and ‘how’.
  2. Consistently listen. Even if you feel people have nothing new to say, consistently giving people time to share what’s on their mind when they have nothing new to say will make sure they know you will listen on the day they do have something new to say. Listen to understand what is being shared, rather than to judge what is being shared. And remember that ‘listening’ doesn’t have to go in hand with ‘solving a problem’. Busy leaders can be too good at that latter before they’ve really made time for the former.
  3. Consistently make time for one-to-one conversations as well as for team conversations. Individuals will be able to ask the sensitive questions they need to ask, and to share the sensitive messages they need to give, more easily one-to-one than in even the most well-established of teams. 
  4. Consistently remind yourself that it’s hard for people to ‘speak truth to power.’ This has come out in a number of conversations I’ve had over the last few months. Even C-suite leaders have said that they have found it easier to share their genuine challenges with their peers or with their direct reports than they have with their boss. Despite the fact that you believe you are a really approachable leader (and I have never met a leader who thought they weren’t!), work on the basis that you need to consciously and consistently create an environment that makes it easy for people to share with you what is truly on their mind.
  5. And how do you do that? By consistently applying points 1, 2 and 3 above.

Good consistency in the face of so much inconsistency will pay dividends for all of us as leaders as we move beyond this summer period and into the rest of 2020. 

And speaking of summer, I hope everyone is planning some much-needed R&R over this period. I’m taking time out for the month of August from these weekly emails. That’s time for four Rs, not just two – yes, some rest & relaxation, and also some reflection and research. 

See you in September.

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