Chaos or Consistency?
Updated: Jan 8, 2019
This past week I was on vacation at our cabin up north with my husband's brother and his family. We generally spend a week together every summer and have done so for the past 16 years. They have 3 children, as do we, and they now range in age from 18 to 24. The three oldest are recently out of college and working, experiencing their first non-summer job on a full-time basis. One of those three is my daughter and the other two are my nieces. It's been very interesting to listen to them talk about their jobs, but more specifically talk about their managers/supervisors and/or leaders. What do you think they are saying? Well it's not surprising that what I'm hearing is a lack of leadership, but more specifically stated, a lack of consistency.
So what is a lack of consistency? Usually, it is unmanaged chaos. Now, chaos is good if it is managed. So what is managed chaos? The role of a leader is to provide the organization with vision, values, and guidelines. These are critical to helping people make the best possible decisions and operate in a way that advances the company's strategy and objectives. A good leader provides clarity, decision criteria, and help in maintaining consistency across people and over time. Is the company's core value to maintain customer relationships at all costs? Is it to drive profitability no matter what? When a leader fails to provide clear direction, the result is always the same: Employees struggle with ambiguity; decisions are delayed or deferred or punted upward and; politics start to become more important than principles.
To build culture and values across an organization requires a lot of people to act in concert. A good leader monitors how well employees understand and adhere to direction and guidelines. As coaches, a good leader helps others think through implications that can impact the broader team's goals and objectives. Once people have aligned values and principles, their ability to think and operate independently accelerates.
Good leaders hold people accountable to the values and principles - including themselves.
There are times when every leader needs to confront a difficult decision that puts principles to the test. We can all think of examples of people who are tolerated, often for years at a time, because they consistently deliver outstanding performance by following their own rules. As a leader, do you tolerate good performance but behavior that is inconsistent with core principles, or demonstrate that commitment to the values trumps individual performance? If performance is the core value, there is not a dilemma. But if how people accomplish their goals is a core value, allowing this situation to continue communicates very strongly that there is, in fact, no leadership compass and principles are merely suggestions. A good leader understands that saying one thing and doing another undermines all other efforts to drive consistency. He/she recognizes that it fundamentally damages his/her own credibility, and that of the organization.
To lead requires one to consistently uphold core values and principles and to reinforce their importance on an ongoing basis. In the same way that a child who is taught to 'always tell the truth' will point out when a parent is lying, employees are quick to spot a lack of integrity in those above them. When a leader does not consistently demonstrate core values and principles, it is impossible to expect it of others.
The majority of us are proud of what we do and want to do a good job for the companies we work for. When leaders have a vision and guiding principles they consistently communicate, it makes the job of managing people much easier because everyone is marching in the same direction. When leaders complain to me that people are working against each other, that they are not aligned, that they don't seem to 'get it', I tell them to do one thing; look in the mirror.
We all have had experiences working for poor leaders and hopefully have had experiences working for good or great leaders. From the perspective of new graduates entering the workforce, it is evident that the qualities that are required of leaders are not prevalent, but those who do have these skills will create a culture and environment that will attract the next generation of future employees and leaders. What are you doing as a leader to create consistency that provides clarity of direction and values that not only allows your organization to attract talent, but prosper?
Jayne McQuillan, CPA, MBA, CEPA is a strategic management consultant, and the owner of Journey Consulting, LLC, in Green Bay