It may be that the best leaders aren’t those who inspire, or have the most product knowledge, or stand up to management on behalf of their team. Walter Chen, CEO of the productivity service IDoneThis, says the best leaders are those who are the most… predictable.
Well, that’s counter-intuitive. Or, at least it is until you consider the numbers. Google, which is known for collecting reams of data on the performance of both employees and managers, discovered that when the boss is consistent, employees quickly come to understand the rules they have to play by. As a result, they have a much more fundamental sense of freedom.
“When managers are predictable, they remove a roadblock from employees’ path—themselves,” Chen writes. “Managers have their own tendency to meddle, criticize, and second-guess. Without that roadblock, employees don’t have to worry about whether their manager will try to jump in and ‘save the day’ with some new idea. Instead, they have the space necessary to do an amazing job.”
Freedom, Chen says, leads to autonomy, and that’s “one of the most potent motivators of personal productivity.” He cites a 2004 study that found employees with the highest job satisfaction—and the highest levels of job performance—were those whose bosses gave them the most freedom to get things done.
It makes sense. When bosses are predictable you know the kind of approach they’ll want you to take to a particular challenge, whether it’s managing a project, approaching stakeholders about scope or writing a swath of code. They’ve laid out the rules so that you can do your work without worrying about interference or trouble. Even managers who want to know an inordinate amount of detail are easier to deal with when you don’t have to second-guess what’s expected of you. On the flip side, managers who are inconsistent in their demands leave you on edge: You never know what’s going to be right and what’s going to be wrong.
All this can take some pressure off of managers who are wasting energy trying to be “dynamic” when they’d rather just concentrate on their work: Be predictable, and you may be displaying the most important leadership trait of all.
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