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How Inconsistent Leadership Decays Trust

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It didn’t feel right. I got that sinking feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach when your ‘Spidey’ sense starts to tingle. My internal dialogue instantly activated. The thoughts in my head began to fire as I tried to sort through the original discussions we had and the policies that I had written based on those discussions. Now it seemed to change again. My brain seemed to instantly check out of the situation as if to say, “I’m done.”  Then there was the delivery of the message. It was an Instant Message (IM) that debunked months of strategy, planning and execution. No rationale, no explanation, no argument.

When we think about consistency it seems like such a small part of leadership but we have to think about it through the eyes of a child. When mom or dad promises to take you to the park but forgets. When your parents tell you that curfew is at 10:00PM and even though you followed the rules and were in the house by 9:50PM you still get punished. Their response, “Well if you really wanted to be here you would have been here by 9:30PM or not gone at all and demonstrated your dedication to us.”

Inconsistent leadership creates the perfect petri dish to grow resentment. Resentment, which is the bitter indignation of having been treated unfairly, will eat away at your teams and stifle productivity like termites in your organizational infrastructure.

What behaviors lead to inconsistent leadership?

  • Fear Based Leadership: Trying to Control Versus Inspire – Fear based leadership is heavily dependant on making sure that you maintain control or else. It’s heavily based on doling out consequences and using cattle prod policies to keep employees in line.
  • Lack of Organizational Infrastructure – Organizations that do not prioritize building internal infrastructure suffer from cutting corners. This causes leaders to constantly scramble for ways to govern the organization. Leaders often resort to leaning on personal preferences that sound good in the moment versus leading from a defined, strategic, united and conscious set of policies and processes.
  • Focusing on the Bottom Line Only – Focusing on the bottom line only is a ruthless method of leadership. Organizations with this mentality still have to build retention practices. In the Huff Post article ‘How Much Does Employee Turnover Really Cost?’, Josh Bersin of Deloitte comments that turnover costs businesses thousands of dollars when you consider hiring, onboarding, training, ramp time to peak productivity, the loss of engagement from others due to high turnover, higher business error rates, and general culture impacts. Bersin describes employees as appreciating assets that produce more and more value to the organization over time, which helps explain why losing them is so costly.
  • Leaders Don’t Trust Who They Hire – If you don’t trust anyone that you hire you are either hiring all the wrong people or you haven’t defined what the tangible products of success are in your organization and what the organization’s core values are. Without knowing these things it is extremely difficult to hire the right people. This is the beginning of a downward spiral that often leads leaders to over-police their organization’s. When we try to control everything our employees do by over-policing an organization, we stifle their ability to make conscious, ethical decisions that cultivate ownership.
  • Lack of Organizational Vision, Mission, Purpose and Core Values – Lack of organizational vision, mission, purpose and core values is the direct product of an ethical deficit in your organization. You have no unified banner to march under and you probably don’t even know why you need to hire people in the first place.

Even Leaders Need to be Nurtured

Leaders are far from perfect and don’t have all the answers. As leaders progress in seniority we often forget that even leaders need to be nurtured.

Remember…

Nurturing is different from venting. We all have to let off steam from time to time but nurturing your leaders is not getting your leadership team together to bad-mouth the underlings. Stay positive and focus on the role that the leadership, policies, and organizations play in workplace conflict.

Develop peer to peer support and accountability. Leaders need to be a united front and lean on each other. They also need to hold each other accountable and develop the trust needed to be honest and call out bad behavior.

Don’t be afraid to use a consistent external resource. Organizations should never hesitate to bring in a consultant or Executive Coach to provide a bird’s-eye view of the leadership team. You may even want to make it a habit of doing it annually like an organizational yearly health exam.

Rejuvenation is vital for leaders. Make it a priority to refocus and remember the reasons why you have all committed to being and working together in this place and time. Make sure that whatever activity you choose is what your leadership team wants and needs. It doesn’t have to be a weekend trust building retreat in the mountains. It could be as simple as a leadership dinner or lunch.    

Q&A

Q. There are greater sins that leaders often commit right?

A. To try and sort faults from least to greatest completely misses the leadership mark. A good way to gauge the impact of leaders behaviors and attitudes is to look at what you are cultivating and then the impact of growing that in your workforce. Resentment doesn’t stay locked up inside people. It breeds and evolves into other behaviors that can poison your workforce and slash your overall productivity.

Q. Does inconsistency have the power to bring down an organization?

A. Many organizations live on through turnover and scandal in a sort of decrepit state of being. Depending on the size of your business it could single handedly be the downfall if no one wants to work for you. At the very least you have a serious tumor to deal with. Whether or not it will kill the organization depends on the type of treatment and rehabilitation.

Q. My organization has no clear mission, vision or core values and we seem to be ok. Why do you think that is?

A. It all comes down to how you are measuring ‘ok’ and defining success. If success is defined by making enough money to stay afloat then yes, you might be doing ok for now. A couple of questions to think about would be what would it look like if my organization moved past surviving and into thriving and what is the long term cost if we stay where we are?

Tephra Miriam is an avid thought leader, author of middle-grade novel 'Escape to Clown Town', graphic artist, photographer, musician, activist and entrepreneur with a passion for change. Tephra grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and moved to Chicago, Illinois when she was 18 years old, where she currently resides. Her search for adventure took her far and wide at a young age and she continues to mentor, learn, work and speak all over the US. Tephra is a firm believer of redefining the way we think and live. She is a wellness advocate and often blogs on organizational development, challenging the status quo and creating a holistic work environment. Tephra believes that creating space in your life to play, imagine and dream is vital in problem solving, stress management and innovation. As a product of 12 years of homeschooling, Tephra started out at Harold Washington College in Chicago, Illinois before transferring to DePaul University and receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Global Communications and a Master of Arts degree in Applied Professional Studies with a concentration in Authorship and Entrepreneurialism.

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