But Bill Gates just pointed out one of the most overlooked (and absolutely vital) leadership skills to have. He called it out on his friend Warren Buffett.
On the eve of the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, Bill Gates shared this on LinkedIn:
I look forward to Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting every year. Despite all the changes during Warren's tenure, he has lived by the same principles of integrity and creating business value since day one. Even though I have known him well for nearly three decades, I never stop learning from him.
To confirm its importance, let's examine the impact of the opposite--inconsistent leaders.
Research from David De Cremer of Maastricht University in the Netherlands shows that inconsistency strips certainty from an organization, confuses people, erodes trust, causes fear, and can lead to a learned inertia in which the employee, paralyzed by uncertainty, just avoids or shuts down interactions with the offending manager.
So, what say we try for the opposite?
Here are six ways to avoid inconsistent behavior as a leader:
1. Put your priorities on a pedestal.
Nothing creates more uncertainty and confusion than inconsistent messaging on strategies, vision, and goals (organizational priorities). The same holds true when you act inconsistently relative to your personal priorities at work, such as your stated beliefs or values.
Putting these priorities on a pedestal and constantly filtering decisions and actions relative to these priorities is what I call demonstrating critical consistency. Own it.
2. Put a "camera in the corner."
This is a simple exercise to help you spot your own inconsistencies. Imagine there's a camera in the corner of the room every time you are giving direction, making a decision, or interacting with someone in a certain situation. Reviewing the film later should not unveil a host of continuity problems; the world should see you acting in a manner consistent with your beliefs, actions, strategies, and goals.
3. Think "see-say."
For TV commercials, it's critical that what the words are communicating match what the picture is showing, i.e., the "see" and the "say" match, otherwise confusion sets in (after all, you have only 30 seconds to get your message across).
It's the same for us as leaders. Our visible actions should always match up with our words or else people will become confused and begin to tune out.
Relatedly, a brand that doesn't follow through on its promises will never be bought again. And leaders who don't follow through on what they say they will do will never have anyone buy into them (their decisions and direction) again either.
4. Mind your mood swings and impulses.
Inconsistent moods and impulsive behavior yield tentative employees and can even cause fear if the mood or behavior swings to downright nasty. And if the mood is over the top, out-of-character positive, it can cause suspicion.
Everyone, of course, is allowed different temperatures on different days.
It's about being aware and minimizing the height and depth of the peaks and valleys, and perhaps even acknowledging when you're not your usual self.
5. Same situation, different treatment, doesn't work.
People will remember if similar situations produced different results and if leaders interpret rules and policies differently to meet their own desired end. Such inconsistencies may even raise doubts of integrity.
This call for disciplined behavior shouldn't be viewed as at odds with the need for open-mindedness, the need to react to new data, or the need to flex your leadership behavior according to different situations. Rather, it is about the need for you to heighten your situational awareness and to be cognizant of the consistency of your behaviors and actions.
The same goes for treatment of people; employees want to be treated fairly, not fairly inconsistently. Favoritism will fester into resentment, as will punishment that's not equally administered.
6. Put repeatable processes in place.
You shouldn't let your crazy calendar and overpacked days dictate how you make decisions. Nor should you let such factors breed an environment where inconsistency is a natural byproduct of harried actions.
Be disciplined about putting processes in place (where you truly need them) to help add structure to an otherwise inconsistent approach.
The bottom line is that you can become a more consistent leader with practice and intentionality. And who knows? Maybe Bill Gates will give you a shout out too.