Consistency is one of the most valuable, yet often-overlooked leadership principles required for successful transformation. Consistency demonstrates clearly your commitment to your principles and consistency gives people a reason to seek out your leadership. People need to know what to expect and how you will treat them when they knock on your office door or schedule a short-notice video conference call—no matter who they are or where they fall in the org chart. The slightest insincerity or inconsistency can very quickly undermine someone’s belief in a leader, or the desire to engage with them.
Inconsistencies we project might seem to go unnoticed, until they manifest themselves in the behaviors of those around us. I have this frumpy, old cat named Buddy, a twenty-two-pound tabby who most definitely has his mission in life figured out: wet food. Specifically, Chicken Florentine in the single serving cans. Every morning, Buddy follows me into the kitchen and waits patiently for me to fix my pot of coffee. As the coffee brews, I walk to the other side of the kitchen to the cabinet where the cat food is stored, pick out a can of Florentine, a clean pet food bowl, and a teaspoon. Buddy follows me quietly to and from, rubbing up against my leg and purring in anticipation of the treat to come. As soon as I pull on the tab on the lid of the can, breaking the vacuum seal, Buddy loses his freaking mind. He wails and yells incessantly as the wet mush is scooped into the bowl, and even as I pick up the dish to place it on the floor, Buddy’s alarms bell are still sounding off at Defcon 1 levels. Does he not know that the bowl will soon make it to the floor? What does he think I am going to do with his breakfast—accidentally feed it to the dog?
The answer: one act of inconsistency. My family adopted Buddy ten years ago, when he showed up as an abandoned kitten on the doorstep of a dear friend, who convinced my wife and I into thinking each other had agreed to take the pathetic puffball off his hands. Since then, I’ve fed Buddy this breakfast every day, thousands of cans of Florentine, to his delight. One morning—just one—like four years ago, I emptied a can of food into a bowl and set it on the kitchen counter when I was distracted by an important phone call. I forgot about Buddy’s breakfast until I returned to the kitchen later that day for lunch. Buddy was displeased with my abject failure that morning, and every day since…every…single…day…Buddy anxiously squawks at me until that bowl hits the floor. One inconsistency in our routine, and he lost all faith in me as his father.
Faith lost is very difficult to regain. This is especially true in the well-informed, digitalized world. Our authenticity as a leader of digital natives will be particularly scrutinized as the digital world is filled with deceit. With so much information throughout our digital lives, it can be very difficult to find and adhere to a simple truth. Digital natives grew up in a world where you can swipe without hesitation to signify instant approval or rejection. Your company brand is facing the same challenge in the digital era: consumers crave transparency, respect, and consistency. Inconsistencies, perceived or real, undermine the authenticity and trust we work so hard to project.