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Always, always be yourself…

Some of the worst relationships I’ve had in the world of work, and indeed outside of work, have been with people who lack consistency. For example there is nothing worse than sitting down with your line manager and agreeing a framework for decision making which empowers you and liberates her, only to discover that she wants to know every bit of detail, and berates you for not keeping her informed, when you firmly believe that you had agreed otherwise.  In this scenario, you might be excused for becoming paranoid. Am I not trusted? Did I imagine the previous conversation? You then set about either coaching upwards, ignoring her constant requests or seeking clarification and re-aligning expectations. There are a number of courses of action, all of which consume a good deal of time and emotional energy, brought about by inconsistency. Essentially in this example, the kind of leader the line manager wants to be is not the kind of manager she is.

I’m reminded of a story told to me by a close friend. The story concerns a piece of advice he was given when he was promoted to lead a group of 12 airman many years ago. A wise and wizened warrant officer took him to one side and spoke these words which still resonate with him 30 years later…

“….Be consistent young man, always be consistent, if you’re going to be a ba**ard, always be a ba**ard, then people know where they stand….”  

Of course, at the time and in a military environment, he took that as an instruction to be a ba**ard, wrong!  What this fount of all knowledge was referring to, in his own way, was to know and understand yourself. If you do that, then you’ll be consistent.  Years later, during my MBA study, I discovered that this advice chimed with what the management theorists Argyris and Schön refer to as ‘espoused theories’ and ‘theories in use’. Essentially they assert that people consciously believe (and indeed espouse) that their behaviour is based on their world view and values. They also assert that most people are unaware that they act in a different way to their espoused theory, which unconsciously drives their actions, i.e. their theory in use.

There are clear implications here for leaders.  We’ve all seen inconsistent leaders of the type detailed above.  Close alignment between our words and our actions in respect of leadership will make us much more effective. Evidence suggests, and we perhaps know this intuitively, that acting in line with our words helps others anticipate our view and in turn this empowers the team.

So, always, always be your authentic self, and you will maintain consistency.


Published by Pete Wilson

Pete has worked in the technology and business change space for over 30 years. He's worked globally for large public sector and governmental bodies and for large private sector multinationals across numerous industry sectors.

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