In a pedagogy class, the professor told us it was good to keep students off balance, that it was a positive if they didn't know where they stood with you. This was the opposite of what I found to be true in my leadership experience. If people know where they stand with you, they're not wasting energy trying to prove themselves. They don't to manage the anxiety caused by working for someone who is a "loose cannon," someone who's actions and reactions are unpredictable.
While my professor may have thought this kept people alert in class and motivated them to achieve more, his philosophy has some serious downfalls. Having a predictable character, which includes being true to your word and following through on promised actions, increases the productivity and creativity of your best students (and employees). Being unpredictable causes unnecessary pressure and anxiety, especially for those who are internally motivated.
Here's 3 reasons why a predictable character matters:
When people know where they stand with you, a more positive and relaxed culture is created.
No one needs any extra stress, and being insecure about your professional relationship with superiors is stressful. Research shows that toxic cultures contributed significantly to workplace resignation during the pandemic. A sense of security and safety in the workplace promotes a more positive culture. Having a loose cannon for a boss does not.
Consistent expectations facilitate communication.
You can't expect people to meet fluid goals. Furthermore, you can verbally communicate your expectations, but unless leadership actions are consistent and the level of expectation remains stable, verbal communication will fall short. Actions speak louder than words. Only when expectations are clearly and consistently stated through both words and actions do people know what is genuinely expected of them. And only then can they meet these expectations appropriately.
Productivity and quality will most likely increase.
Positive leadership tends to bring out the best in people, including their ability to produce efficiently and effectively. Having an unpredictable character translates into unpredictable leadership. Intentional vagueness or unpredictability used to increase productivity is based on the premise that people need external pressure to succeed and produce at the highest level, yet, the best employees are internally motivated.
Most of that class had a stomachache for the final. With vague expectations and unpredictable leadership comes an immense amount of unnecessary stress. Being consistent with your words, actions, and expectations encourages potential to flourish without the drama.
Dr. Nancy Williams is a musician and leadership & life coach who helps creative leaders build cultures of joy and empowerment. Sign up for a link to each week's blogpost and an inspirational message sent directly to your inbox and receive the free worksheet "5 Steps to Overcoming Overwhelm."