When asked what qualities they appreciate in a manager, most employees say they value consistency. After all, what could be more frustrating than working for somebody who's always changing strategies? You think you're following marching orders only to have the boss undercut you by publicly setting a different direction.

I once worked for a boss like this. Once a decision was made, he needed constant babysitting to make certain that somebody from a competing group didn't get to him privately and convince him to flip-flop.

On the other hand, smart employees also don't want to work for woodenheaded managers who are incapable of changing their opinions or strategies in response to changing marketing conditions.

I once worked for a company whose entire management team simply would not admit to themselves or their employees that everyone else in the business world was scrapping minicomputers and mainframes in favor of desktop PCs. The result was bankruptcy.

What's needed is something in between. Great bosses don't spin like a weathervane whenever the wind blows from a different direction but are nevertheless willing and able to pivot and change behaviors when conditions warrant.

The same is true in management tactics as well as strategy. While great bosses don't show favoritism, they adapt their management style to the needs of the person being managed, rather than trying to cram everyone into a one-size-fits-all approach.

I learned this from parenting. My 12-year-old son is easygoing, sometimes too flexible with the truth, but ridiculously perceptive about other people's emotions. My 11-year-old daughter is tightly wound, always truthful, but a bit obtuse about other people.

When it comes to rules and discipline, my wife and I have found that what works for my son doesn't work for my daughter. While both sometimes protest that "it's not fair," if we tried to be consistent between them, neither child would get what he or she needs.

Back when I was inside the corporate world, I had one manager (Dilip Phadke) who was a grand master at this. At one point, Dilip had two direct reports: 1) an overwrought, cranky prima donna (me) and 2) a reasonable and easygoing marketing expert (Guy Vancollie.)

(Note: I haven't worked with either of them since the '90s and have only traded emails with them maybe once or twice since then. I'm including their names because their skills and character still impress me 20 years later.)

Somehow--I'm still not sure exactly how--Dilip managed to harness both my craziness and Guy's calmness so that we worked together to get more accomplished over a year (in a very difficult environment) than in the remaining five years that I worked in that company.

I often see that kind of careful inconsistency when I interview entrepreneurs and CEOs, especially when I ask a difficult question that points out an inconsistency. The smartest CEOs admit there's an inconsistency and shrug it off. The not-so-smart ones backtrack and equivocate.

Published on: Aug 21, 2017
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