Leadership Essentials – Predictability

woman walking down center line of road

This last month I have focused on some of the essentials of leadership: accountability, vision, and courage. There are countless other traits necessary for a leader to be someone worth following —integrity, positivity, humility, to name a few—yet today, I want to wrap-up this mini-series with something that I think is often overlooked: predictability. In an environment that is changing faster than ever before due to new technology, innovation, and countless other societal forces, people gravitate more and more to leaders that are predictable. This happens because moving an organization from point A to point B is what leaders do, and people are naturally inclined to resist such movement; therefore, it is essential for leaders to be predictable so that people trust them enough to follow them. Hang with me while I explain…

Predictable behavior is essential because it is clear. What I mean is that when “x” happens, the organization knows that the leader’s response will be “y.” For example, team members at Apple knew that Steve Jobs demanded 100% excellence in the products they produced. So, it was extremely predictable that he would erupt, maybe even taking it too far, when the design team at Apple failed to execute even the smallest of details on a new product launch. While we can evaluate the methods of Steve Jobs’ leadership, it is hard to argue that his reactions were not, at least to a certain degree, predictable. And, this is one of the reasons people stayed on the Apple team, even after suffering through one of his eruptions.

On the contrary, one of the basketball coaches I played for growing up had multiple reactions for various situations. The most alarming came during our practices where fighting was sometimes allowed — we had multiple fist fights during our “no rules” practices. Our coach was a really good strategist — I learned many basketball lessons from him — but no one on the team wanted to follow him. So, even though our team was was tougher than nails and was very successful (26-5), many of us chose not to play organized basketball again after that experience.

Similarly, it is often cited that people do not leave organizations, they leave managers. If this is true, how many of these people cite a manager that is too predictable as the reason they leave the organization? For example, “my boss at my old job was such a jerk because every time I did something wrong he called me into his office to have a conversation.” Think about it, people never cite this. Rather, they say something along the lines of, “my boss at my old job was such a jerk because one day I would be praised for something and the next day I was criticized for the exact same thing. I could not take it anymore.” The lack of predictability destroys trust and when trust is gone, people leave.

A couple of clarifications before wrapping up. I am not suggesting that leaders should never change their minds on things. One of the things that make leaders worth following is their willingness to seek new information and ideas. I am not talking about that above, but rather that the process (behavior) leaders go through as they change their minds should be predictable. Further, predictability is often equated to as “boring” so people resist it. “Spontaneity,” for example, may be great during the early stages of a dating relationship —a female acquaintance twenty years ago called me boring because I was so predictable (truer words have never been spoken — LOL) —but, you will find that when a relationship becomes serious, good luck if your behavior remains “spontaneous.” The point again being that, people follow, or in this example, commit, to predictability. So, lead your spouse to a spontaneous activity, but never waver from your predictable behavior. See the difference? – (Love advice in this week’s post is free of charge!)

Obviously, I have gone on long enough if I have already shared two high school stories in one post.

In closing, I am committed to this blog continuing to focus on encouraging leaders to be someone worth following. As you can see, this blog too is predictable. So, to that end, I encourage you again toward accountability for your actions. The buck stops with us as leaders. Further, let’s paint a picture of a place worthy of our effort, and let’s lead people to that place. Doing so will be hard, but let’s face it, being a leader means that we get the privilege of doing the things no one else wants to do. Let’s courageously embrace this. And finally, let’s be predictable in how we behave so that people know what to expect from us on the journey.