All stories communicate both obvious and less obvious (sometimes hidden) details of events and circumstances serving as the framework for the story. The same is true of both our personal and work life stories. Also real are the stories we write as leaders. Even though we are the main authors of all our individual stories, something else can be truer and more impactful to our story as experienced by others – the degree of consistency we demonstrate with what we say and do through our lives.
Before we look at this a little closer, let’s get one false idea out of the way first. Consistency does not mean perfection. Instead, the quality of living life consistently involves our intentional efforts to behave in accordance to our internal values over time regardless of the circumstances. Intentional efforts start with both an understanding of what attitudes and actions I want to define me (the result of what I value), and then making the commitment to say and do just that. As you may guess, living in this way isn’t automatic. Rather, it is a practiced ownership of my life in the presence of others. Practiced in that it is a choice I make and ownership because I’m responsible for my all my actions.
As leaders, having our life consistency defined in this manner is even more important because of our potential impact on more people. Leadership consistency creates reasonable expectations about our behaviors (attitudes, ideas, and actions) with those we lead. These expectations are co-written by others in knowing how we will respond to circumstances. Let’s be clear though – consistency is a result, a reflective mirror for others to anticipate our attitudes and actions, whether positive and building, or negative and tearing down. We may think we are consistent and well thought of by those around us, but because they have been the recipient of our collective attitudes and actions OVER time, they have their own story of who we are. Our consistency or inconsistency from their vantage point tells the more accurate picture, and as the primary author of our personal story, having this perspective from others is a gift which we get to use or discard. What we choose to do with it determines whether our consistency grows or diminishes with the corresponding impact on others.
If perfection is not possible then, what happens when I’m inconsistent? First and foremost, how we handle it will determine whether we are building and strengthening our consistency or not. How does that work? Owning without excuse that we were inconsistent with our behaviors both with ourselves and/or others reinforces our attention and value for wanting to be consistent — a truth key of “confessing”. Doing so transforms that failure into a steppingstone of growth. For those around us, humility marks our interactions, and relational respect is strengthened as we honor those we failed with the truth of confession and ownership. In that place, relational integrity is maintained, and can be continued without an experience disconnection. It also gives permission to each of us to accept support and help to become better. If practiced faithfully, our personal consistency will increase and become more a part of our everyday lives.
In contrast, ignoring and not owning our failures of inconsistent behavior blinds us to ourselves and impacts those affected in opposite ways. Mistrust results as relational integrity and connection with them is damaged, with the potential for repair harder and harder without personal ownership. Continued reinforcement here leads to less clarity of our actual behaviors and its effect on others. Ultimately, not only does our leadership come into question, but the negative impact on those we’ve led colors their connection with us. For leaders especially, trust and value for those we lead is everything, thus consistency is critical.
Our behavioral consistency, at a fundamental level, prescribes the level of trust others will be able to have with us, either as a person and/or as a leader. It represents a purposeful direction we choose to pursue for our life over a particular state or attainment level. Failing will happen but what we do with that will dictate growth and more consistency or increased personal brokenness and less consistency. What will our on-going story from others say about us? We get to choose.