Great leaders are consistently inconsistent


Last Friday, I came across a blog by Jason Evanish on the Leadership Paradox. What is it? Quite simply, Evanish defines it as:

Balancing when to be rigid and when to be flexible.

It struck a chord with me based on my past management experience. Before I joined DelCor, I managed 3 designers: 1 who grew along with the company but was often a naysayer (having endured so much change without being in charge), 1 inherited new hire who was on the verge of being fired, and 1 technically astute designer I hired to replace him when he left voluntarily. Needless to say, I got to practice lots of leadership skills!

My experience in that role was underscored by Evanish’s Leadership Paradox: I had to be consistent to my role, but extremely flexible in how I carried it out with each designer and their individual situations.

The flailing designer could have been saved, so to speak, had he been self-aware and participative in the effort. But he wasn’t willing to be led, managed, mentored, or coached. Lucky for me, his replacement was quite the opposite, and went on to be a star designer in the organization. But the real challenge was working with the veteran designer; it ultimately proved to be incredibly rewarding, because she became a star in her own right, responding to my careful, attentive guidance while helping me become a better leader. I’m a firm believer, based in this experience, that managers should be leaders, and leaders should be coaches and mentors. There’s no one size fits all—leadership is custom fit.

What does Evanish outline as the principles of mastering the Leadership Paradox? He highlights 5 areas to be firmly consistent on—and 5 where leaders should practice flexibility. Take a look at my summaries below. What is most challenging or rewarding for you in the Leadership Paradox?

How and when to be a consistent leader:

    1. Values. Choose ’em wisely and live by ’em. Period.
    2. Lead by example.

Nothing has a bigger impact on culture than the example you set.

    1. Enable professional development for all employees; don’t be distracted by only the top or bottom performers.
    2. Be a coach/mentor/guide—and connect with your staff regularly.

Not taking advantage of the power of one on ones for everyone on your team is a huge loss as these conversations impact their morale, motivation, and quality of their work.

  1. Accountability. Why is this nearly always a negative (even in Evanish’s blog)? Leaders should hold staff accountable for their successes, too. Do successes in your organization end in celebration, then on to the next project? Don’t stop with “cheers.” Are there learning/sharing opportunities? How can successes breed more success, better process, and raise everyone’s performance (not just a glass)?

When is it okay—actually, desirable—to be inconsistent?

    1. Supporting your staff’s growth/advancement is an incredibly individualized effort.

By adapting how you help each person on your team grow, you’ll show you’re invested in their growth and success no matter their goals or circumstances.”

    1. Don’t be a hammer/don’t get into a rut: manage to the individual. A great big duh, yet a reminder for even great leaders.
    2. Here’s the true gem of the entire blog: task-relevant maturity. It’s a concept outlined by Intel co-founder Andrew Grove in his book, High Output Management.

How much experience does a given subordinate have with the specific task at hand? The most effective management style in a specific instance varies from very close to very loose supervision as a subordinate’s task maturity increases.

    1. On the leadership highway, know when to speed up and slow down to support your team in the moment and for the long haul—and don’t overlook recovery time.

Take the time to gauge when you really need to drive hard and when you can treat your work like the paced marathon that work is.

  1. Delegate your best work. Not exactly how Evanish puts it in his blog, but an incredible lesson I learned while earning my master’s in leadership and working in that design team where sharing great work wasn’t the status quo. I can tell you from personal experience that sharing the good stuff is rewarding for both leader and employee. Try it!


Flickr photo by Jessica Lucia