Recently our leadership class discussed the leadership of teams. After debriefing a learning exercise, we started talking about the importance of consistent responses to inappropriate behaviour.
Which started me thinking about a recent experience I had with my two and a half-year old niece. I was sitting in her living room (okay, her mom and dad’s living room, but that’s just a technicality), when she grabbed her Buzz Lightyear doll and put him on the wall facing the corner. She then walked away to the other side of the room, turning her back to Buzz. When her dad started to talk to Buzz, she “shushed” him. Apparently we weren’t supposed to talk to Buzz. She waited an appropriate 30 seconds and then went and got Buzz. She then made Buzz apologize to Woody for hitting him. She then hugged Buzz and told him that Woody forgave him. My darling niece had just perfectly role modeled a time-out. Which suggests that she might have experienced a fair number of time-outs in her short career in day-care.
So what does this story illustrate? That consistency matters. My niece knows exactly what to expect when she misbehaves. And she knows that every time she misbehaves this is what will happen. She has extensively stress-tested this assumption, much to her parents’ dismay. This predictability helps her manage her own behaviour. She knows what is acceptable and what is not, and she knows the consequences of misbehaving. She also knows that every time she misbehaves that she will receive a time-out.
Leaders need to adopt the same approach. 1) State your behavioural expectations; 2) State the consequences of not meeting expectations; 3) Role model those expectations; 4) Provide punishment or rewards as needed, the same way every time the behaviour occurs. 5) Provide forgiveness and reinforce the correct behaviour.
Child Psychologists tell us that consistency is an important factor in managing behaviour, because it provides a child with a sense of certainty, safety and security. As leaders, we should all strive to provide that sense of certainty and safety for our employees. If they know what to do, and know the consequences of not doing it, there should be no surprises as to the outcome.
Are you consistent? Do you have consistent, clearly articulated expectations? Do you consistently reward and punish based on those expectations? Do you let some of your favourite employees slide sometimes? Are your expectations consistent for everyone? Members of your organization will take their cues from you. Good leaders provide an environment that is fair and consistent. The things I learned from Buzz Lightyear.