What is the single most important leadership quality? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
The single most important leadership attribute is constancy, or consistency, depending on the form of the word you want to use.
There's a biblical phrase that says, 'If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle?" That's accurate. Being consistent in terms of who you are and the theme of principal-based direction you provide is absolutely critical to leadership, or else people will disengage.
They need to know that The Boss, when he shows up, will likely say these sorts of things, will likely be in a certain sort of mood. It doesn't really matter what you say or what mood you're in--what matters is that you're consistent.
No one wants to have a leader or a boss in the business world that they really don't know what version of him or her they're going to get. That creates uncertainty. That creates disengagement. That creates distrust.
I had a boss once where he was outstanding when he was on, but engaged fear and loathing when he wasn't. You were scared to death to approach him because you never knew which version you were going to get. Something that you thought, "This is a piece of cake, I'll just go run it by him and we'll just move forward," he would absolutely blow his lid on. Other things that you'd sweat over for days or weeks before you presented it to him he'd say, "Yeah, no big deal." And so you could never really guess where you were. The amount of lost productivity and energy that ensues from someone that manages and leads that way is absolutely diabolical.
An analogy would be this: think of Big Ben, the clock. Well, technically Big Ben is the bell, the clock is actually St. Stevens. But the idea of a large clock with a gear or cog that drives it. You wind that cog up, and the Big Cog moves consistently in terms of direction and speed. Absolutely, consistently, constantly and religiously, almost, in terms of how it moves.
That allows all of the other cogs that are necessary to the functioning of that style of clock to engage with it; their teeth mesh with the teeth of the Big Cog, teeth on teeth on teeth, or cog on cog on cog. You can drive multiple layers of cogs off that one master Cog. That's how they're designed, that's how you get a clock to function.
However, if that big central cog--call it the leader, call it the boss--is inconsistent as to its speed and direction, all it's going to do is one of two things:
1) It will cause the cogs that, by definition, need to feed off and from it, to disengage.
Essentially saying, "I'll wait until Mr. Big Cog has himself sorted out and then I'll re-engage."
2) People will try and engage with Mr. Big Cog and all that will happen is the teeth will break, as this conflict of speed and direction causes the smaller cogs' teeth to be broken right off by the Big Cog.
So that even when Smaller Cog decides to engage because now it's decided that he's chosen his direction and his speed-"I see what's going on, I can engage now"-there's no ability to engage because the teeth have been broken off, so no productivity ensues.
Picture that in your mind.
The absolute single most important leadership quality is consistency. At whatever level you choose to be at, people need to be able to count on who you are and the principles you are driven by. That doesn't mean there aren't variations on a theme based on weather, or mood, or whatever else, but try and minimize them wherever possible. In fact, one of the great compliments you can get from your employees or from those who are following you is "I thought you'd say that," or "I knew you'd say that," or "I knew that's what you'd want us to do." That means you've got unanimity, that means you have alignment, that means you've had proven consistency over time historically.
That adds great value.
That is leadership.
This question originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: