I love biscuits made from scratch. Luckily I grew up around excellent scratch biscuit makers. Admittedly, the ingredients my mother and grandmother relied on were basic staples found in virtually every kitchen: flour, salt, baking powder, milk and shortening. However the artistry resided not in the ingredients, but in the skillful combination of those ingredients.
I’ve discovered that how leaders earn respect is a lot like making biscuits. Surprising as it may seem, being respected doesn’t require a wide range of ingredients. In fact, I believe only three critical elements are required. However, like any premier biscuit baker, knowing when and how to combine those basic ingredients will ultimately determine the difference between respect earned or opportunity squandered.
Remember, no single one of these “ingredients” can carry the load alone. A leader needs all three to successfully earn respect. Understanding them first — then understanding how to make them work in concert with one another — is where leadership mastery begins.
Most of us recognize that consistency is important in business. For customers or clients to have confidence in the goods and services we provide, we must offer consistent quality, delivery, responsiveness, follow up, support and service. Without confidence in our ability to do this, customers are forced to go looking elsewhere to have their needs met. This same ground rule holds true for employees in search of a leader.
If a leader develops a reputation for being inconsistent in either their words or actions, employees will eventually lose confidence in their ability to lead effectively. As a result, employees may go in search of leadership elsewhere. Employees desire to be led. They all want a leader. In fact, they need a leader to help them navigate the way through situations where they don’t know how to help themselves. But leadership inconsistency can derail all that.
The late Jim Rohn — entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker — said, “Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.” Consider the following simple illustration of how fundamental consistency in words and actions can impact our ability to lead more effectively.
Let’s assume you know you’ve made a significant professional mistake that no one, including your leader, has yet discovered. It’s not your intention to try to cover up the mistake or blame someone else for it. You know what you need to do: the first step in resolving the problem is to fess up. You need to come clean with your boss first, then with others whom your error may affect. And that’s exactly what you resolve to do.
You say to yourself, “First thing tomorrow morning, I’m going to step up and do the right thing. I’m going to go into my boss’s office and bring him up to speed on my mistake and all the ramifications associated with it.’
You awake with the same resolve the next morning. You anticipate that the conversation with your boss is not going to be a pleasant one. But, you’re convinced it’s the right thing to do and you’re resolved to do it.
You arrive at work, a slight sense of dread washing over you. Nevertheless, you’re committed. You head down the hallway. As you approach your boss’s office you notice a colleague exiting. As you pass briefly, you ask a simple, but direct question.
“What kind of mood is he in?”
Your colleague looks up rather dejectedly, points toward his backside and responds sarcastically, “Well, at least he shouldn’t be too hungry when you get in there—he just chewed on this pretty good.”
So what do you do now? If you’re like most of us, you will probably do an about-face right there in the hallway, retreating to your office.
There’s no reason to bother him right now, you think. My problem will still be around later… or even tomorrow. I’ll just come back when he’s in a better mood.
The first question to consider is: who is at fault in this scenario? We certainly can’t ignore your burden of responsibility. After all, you made the mistake; you have an obligation to make your boss and other colleagues aware of it. As a leader, you must be willing to take action—to do the things that need to be done, even if they’re unpleasant or uncomfortable.
But, I think there is more fault to go around here. Your boss also bears a measure of responsibility. Because of his inconsistency—in this case, his moodiness—you opt to avoid discussing a problem that you know you should have brought to light earlier. Actions that should have been instituted to deal with correcting the problem — and resolving the issues that it creates — are unnecessarily delayed.
Consistency is not a concept; it’s a personal discipline. Remember Jim Rohn’s words again: “Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals” — my emphasis added. Do you agree?
I mentioned leaders earn respect using three basic ingredients — any ideas on the next two? Please share them with me. The next ingredient will be coming soon.
Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Training Expert, Keynote Speaker
Author of Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership
This article is adapted from Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership, (Wiley 2013). Copyright 2013 by Phillip Van Hooser. All rights reserved. This article may be downloaded for personal and professional development. Copies may be shared within an individual organization. All other uses of this material are strictly prohibited without written permission from the author.To purchase a copy of the book, please visit www.leadersoughttoknow.com/book.