Really good leaders are rare. Readers who are in leadership positions should not take umbrage at this statement. It is a matter of fact. Good leaders, leaders who turn around a business, lead a government and the people through difficult reforms, lead an organisation to a point where they are recognised as “the best” are written about in books.
Poor leaders, leaders who failed to grow a company or failed to lead their people through a crisis are written about in newspapers. There are many more leaders written about in newspapers than there are in books. In any case, who amongst us who have been privileged to be in a position of leadership, have not thought on reflection, “I could have done better”.
There are several characteristics which good leaders share. One common characteristic of good leaders is their constancy. Constancy is not persistence. Whilst persistence is an admirable trait in itself, it differs from consistency in the following manner.
Persistence is being like the well quoted dog with the often mentioned bone. It is to follow things through, to not let go, to continue when others fall by the wayside.
Constancy comes in several forms.
It is critical that leaders of an organisation have constancy about the message they communicate to their people. The message not only has to be consistent over time, the message must be constantly communicated using different mediums.
People take in information in different ways dependent on their personality, their upbringing, their thinking style and their mood. Communicating important messages by email or circular once, does not cut it as good communication.
Different people need different mediums to best receive the message. Some will do better with the written word, others by verbal communication, in their mother tongue at times, and others will respond best to pictures, graphics or cartoons. Good leaders will be constant in their appreciation of the different communication needs of people.
People need to be convinced about important messages. Constant communication of the message gives them the opportunity to listen and appreciate the arguments contained in the message in different contexts and situations. It allows them to get used to the message in its entirety and to become comfortable with the message.
More than anyone in the organisation, the leader must have a constant emotional response to issues. Leaders who hide and do not communicate or are non-committal when problems arise give a signal to everybody that it is OK to shy away from problems and hope they go away.
Leaders who get angry and micro manage when problems arise give a message. Some may think it is that mistakes are not tolerated. I think the message is more likely to be that it is OK to make mistakes; the boss will look after it.
Mistakes should have constant response of the opportunity to learn to do better. Constant mistakes on the other hand, should have the message that maybe the incumbent is not suited to the role.
Lack of performance must have consequences. The consequences must be constant so that individuals know what to expect. The consequences must be communicated up front so that individuals are not surprised.
Leaders who chop and change decisions when problems arise give a message that is OK to be swayed by pressure, and it is therefore OK to apply pressure through the organisation to implement personal views rather than make progress towards the organisational goal.
Leaders who remain positive and use every issue, whether positive or negative as an opportunity to move the organisation towards its goal send a signal that problems which arise are to be solved, not deflect the organisation from its chosen goal.
Leaders must have constancy in the way they approach people. Having favourites or being seen to have favourites sends a message that personalities and relationships mean more than results.
Very soon the organisation as a whole learns that is OK to have powerful groups acting on their own thus diminishing the probability of achieving a common goal. Leadership can be lonely and tiring. The pressures which occur are themselves constant but only in the fact that they are constantly present. The nature of problems varies, the consequences of the problems vary, the solutions and opportunities the problems represent vary.
Under trying and variable circumstances of a modern public or private business, good leaders will be constant.
Constant in their message, constant in their approach to people, constant with the consequences for poor and good performance under their leadership, constant in their observed commitment to achieve a goal and constantly provide a reference for good people to follow.
Being constant is not a theoretical nice to have. Being constant as a leader helps people to feel secure and brings with it constant good results.