The most underrated leadership trait: inconsistency

Posted on Posted in General, Meetings

I spent weeks being angry with a colleague for something he repeatedly said he didn’t do. I didn’t believe him.

But then he forwarded me an e-mail, time-stamped. It was cold hard incontrovertible evidence that he was telling the truth and I knew it.

Did I stop being angry? No. Not right away at least. It took me a couple of weeks to come around.

Go ahead. Call me stubborn, or foolish, but don’t call me unique.

One of the most powerful forces in all of human behavior is the desire to be (and appear) consistent with what we have previously said and done, and it’s this very phenomenon that could be crippling your organization.

Psychologists call it the consistency principle and some of its implications are disturbing. What if our previous commitments were wrong or have become wrong over time? What if new evidence, a persuasive argument, or a recent experience warrants a change in our beliefs?

Expect delays.

We live in a society that overvalues resolve and consistency. When someone changes their mind too quickly, even if for good reason, they’re often labeled erratic or even worse a “flip-flopper”.

For this reason, we often needlessly complicate change (sometimes without even realizing it). If we put on a show, by agonizing over the decision, mulling it over for days, weeks, or years, maybe we can save face. What a waste of time.

But this presents an opportunity…

In a world that is changing faster than ever, organizations need to change quickly too. All change is preceded by a new decision and all new decisions are preceded by a change in belief. If we want agile organizations, we need the people in those organizations to be able to change beliefs on a dime.

If our human bias towards consistency is what stands in the way, then perhaps battling consistency is the key.

Perhaps a culture of inconsistency could be your organizations’s greatest competitive advantage.

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