Why being ‘predictable’ will make you a great leader

When you watch a magician or a comedian and the punchline is too obvious, it gets boring. In these situations, you want to be surprised, amazed and fascinated. The next step on stage shouldn’t be predictable. This is what brings in an element of excitement and gives you a good night of entertainment.

As predictability is often associated with boredom, some people hesitate on how to act once they are in their first management position. As they don’t want to become a lame duck in leadership, they might try to react differently to similar requests or at least keep their potential reaction a secret.

Unfortunately, this will lead to insecurity within the employees. As they don’t know how the reaction will be, they need to prepare for all kind of answers which costs a lot more time and energy in preparing meetings with the boss. Most likely, they will reduce the interaction with the boss as it is too energy consuming to enter the uncertainty on a regular basis. Neither trust nor a relationship can be build.

So how does a predictable leadership style look like?

You need to define for yourself, how you want to be as a leader. This requires some time and reflection. For sure, you can change during the course of your career. But first, you need to know who you are and how you want to behave. Here are some questions to think about:

  • How approachable do you want to be? Can people enter your room any time? Do they need an appointment?
  • How will you listen to their requests?
  • What is your first reaction? How quick are you to decide?
  • What are your values?
  • To what degree will you bring in emotions into the workplace?

There is no right or wrong in the style that you choose. But your people need to know what your boundaries are. For example: if people start entering your room at any given time, and all of a sudden you rebuke randomly one person of your team for doing so, you create uncertainty that the team can not solve. It is your responsibility to let people know how interaction works for you. You become predictable.

Predictability means that you know what your boundaries and rules are. You communicate them in advance and act accordingly. This builds trust between you and the team as they can rely on you and your word.

The same is true for handling decisions. You need to know how long you will listen to an idea and how you will react. Maybe you are someone who will never decide on the spot. Let your team know. Then they have the chance to bring in matters of decision in an early stage, giving you the chance to think and decide over time.

Predictability is also relevant towards your ‘mood’. You need to decide, what type of mood you will bring to your workplace and how much it will influence your decisions.

In every area where you do not act predictable, your team will need to start guessing what kind of a day it is for you. And every time, you bring your team in this situation, they will need an extra portion of energy to do their job. Usually, this destroys trust.

Therefore, if you know who you are and communicate well towards your team, you will build trusting relationships through predictability. And these trusting relationships are the fuel for good working environments where people love to work and even like to go the extra mile.

How to handle pressure

My heart is racing. I can feel the steady hammering against my chest. Strong. Loud. My thoughts are spinning. Fast. Unstoppable.

‘What if I cannot meet the deadline?’

‘What if the result is too weak?’

‘What if I am not convincing enough in this important meeting?’

WHAT IF … I fail … I loose… I am not enough!?

The what-ifs kill my sleep. The pressure takes away my joy. The stress assassinates my peace. I am not me anymore … and I have no idea what to think … or do …

I hate these moments. This is not the life I want. This needs to STOP!

So I pause. I breathe. I think.

What if I walk away right now? Just leave the context. Remove myself from unhealthy expectations – even the ones I set up for myself.

I am wondering: Who told me that the meeting was that important? What is the measurement for a weak result? What is going to happen if the deadline is not being met?

I have given my circumstances too much power over my life. Somehow I attached myself to expectations that feel unhealthy. I need to walk away.

As I am sitting in silence and detaching myself from the expectation level, I am realizing how the pressure fades away. My heart beat slows down, I can breathe lightly. This is how I want to live my life.

I am realizing: I don’t need to leave physically. Moving mentally does the trick.

With a deep breath I get up. Ready to go back into the game. Smiling.

Why focussing on your people will bring your business from good to great

„A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected“, is commonly quoted. In business, this principle of human behavior can bring companies, projects and teams from good to great. And as business leaders thirst for greatness, they are looking for techniques of how to trigger the apprecition-button of employees in order to get the result.

But human beings only feel appreciated when they sense it is about them as an individual. We have quite precise antennas to determine whether someone likes us as an individual or only the contribution we can bring to the P&L.

Therefore, it is true that people who feel appreciated will contribute above expectation level. But this principle cannot be turned into: I use appreciation so that I get more contribution for my project. This is called manipulation.

True appreciation requires real feelings, interaction and interest towards the people you are leading. This appreciation is not tied to an expected outcome. As a leader, this can be hard sometimes as you are investing in people and in the relationship with them without seeing immediate ‚results‘.

Results of a leadership style that incorporates real appreciation play out in the longterm, e.g. positive reputation of you as a leader among the team (hence, free in-flow of applications without long hours at recruiting events), laughter and good mood in team meetings (which has carry-over effects in client meetings that become much easier), extra-miles without complaints (that secures the next deadline without you having to work all weekend)

Even clients will realize when your team truly likes you and when collaboration is based on trust, appreciation and – when grown for a long time – friendship. This is the game changer. These moments will catapult you from ‚some consulting company‘ to ‚preferred partner‘ – as the client likes to have motivated people around who bring in a good atmosphere.

Appreciation is a root cause for those moments. But only when you invest in your people without aiming at the financial goals, you will get the results that make all the difference – even financially. It‘s a paradoxon. Think about it for a while and you will see, it is true.

Why leadership is lacking on partner level

It is obvious: the same type of people become partner in a consulting firm or enter the C-level in big companies. ‘Type’ refers mainly to behaviour and habitus, but it is very often accompanied with specific gender, age, skin colour, academic background etc.. The result of the common career paths in the western hemisphere is so homogeneous that it is obvious that there are patterns at work which are very forceful even if they are not used with intent.

Most people of that specific leadership group don’t like that thought. They are convinced that they only made the way ‘to the top’ because they have been hard working and invested a lot in their career. Some may admit that there was some luck involved at certain stages. But definitely no one feels responsible that the outcome of the career process is a homogenous group. In addition, there is not even a reason from their perspective why this should be changed, since the selection process worked in their favour. And after all, each one of that group really worked hard to achieve the current status.

Let’s pause this thought for a moment and think of a garden. If your goal is to have a lot of green in your backyard, you could plant quick-growing plants that overgrow everything. They are efficient in making your garden ‘green’ within months. But if you compare the result to a well-designed and maintained English garden, you realize that you have the same colour but the joy, relaxation and admiration that the English garden evokes, will never happen in the homogeneous ‘green hell’ that grew in your backyard.

The English garden needed intent, a plan and a lot of work. There is a gardener who decides where to put what plant, who cuts branches and loose ends and who has a long term vision for the areal. The result is a place where people gain energy, love to spend time and find joy.

If you want to turn your backyard from just being homogeneous green into a place where people enjoy being, you need a vision where to go and a plan how to get there. It will require you to cut off leaves of the current plants no matter how big they have become and how much green they bring into your garden. You need to make space for other plants and keep the space for them even if they are not growing at the same speed. You need intent in developing your garden.

I believe, career in business is very similar. Unsteered, it will result in a homogeneous mass of people who will focus on their own best interest – bottomline, it is measured in money. Once your company only has people in leadership positions who are focussing on the money, it is like your backyard that is only ‘green’ – but no one likes to be there.

Therefore, although earning money is a central part in a career for each person, it needs to be put into perspective towards a greater picture. Companies need to think about their future state and what kind of behaviour they want to grow so that people are attracted to that place. ‘You can earn a lot of money here’ won’t do the trick if bad behaviour and attitudes are killing new ways of thinking.

Each company needs a gardener (team). They need to define how the company should grow. At the same time, they are plants themselves. They are part of the game and they contribute to the beauty or ugliness of the garden. And as they are plants in the very same garden, they need to have the courage to cut their own leaves at times when it starts killing other plants. This will mean to put the ego aside, question self-beliefs and personal opinions, decide for the greater good and against the personal benefit at times and walk in a humble mindset. It requires a lot of each person in a leading position and it has an effect on personal beliefs and behaviour.

This is where leadership starts!

Why leading a few is harder than leading many

When people think about leadership, very often they envision a large group of people. Getting up the career ladder results in many people in their department – corresponding displayed in the income. But is this the place to learn leadership?

From a personal perspective, I learned the most of my leaders when I have been one-on-one with them or in a small group. In these moments I was able to connect to them – and sense what drives them. They shared their heart more openly and I could understand their reasoning and decisions. Yet, they were still my leaders and I was aware of the hierarchy involved.

Same is true for my teams today. In a smaller setting, no one can hide. Not even the leader. There is this ‘scary’ part in there where one is getting vulnerable. As a leader, it can feel very shaky when admitting weaknesses. It needs a lot of trust in a team to speak your mind openly. But if you manage to create that space, trust grows, people start blooming and the learning curve gets steep. These environments are the base for open honest feedback – be it wholeheartedly praise or words for growth.

Creating that team environment needs time and work. As a leader, you are responsible for the team spirit. You decide how much you share and in what tone you set out meetings. Generally, people mirror your behaviour. Give them time to build trust and see you consistent behaviour. Once they have seen you being authentic and trustworthy even under pressure, they will open up and bring in their share, too.

To give you an example: I always start my meetings in a good mood. Smiling and smalltalk is setting the tone – even in stressful seasons. Attendees learn quickly that ‘good mood’ is to be expected and soon after a series of meetings, they come in with the same smile. Once that point is reached, I don’t have to give much energy anymore, because the tone is up and everyone enjoys that style of a meeting. But it still requires consistency and effort by me to keep going and lead in the way I want to be mirrored.

You can change the world today

Here is a true story from the 70s. We are in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge are in charge and rule the country brutally. Within 4 years up to two million people die. In those years, a baby is found by a swiss lady working for the red cross. The baby lays abandoned near the road to die. The forces of the Khmer Rouge are close and the lady decides quickly: she rescures the little baby girl, takes her to Switzerland and finds parents for adoption.

Roughly 35 years later, that former baby girl is now a highly educated, healthy woman – with a family of her own. She and her husband visit her roots – being in Cambodia for the first time. They fall in love with the country and the people. They decide to move to Cambodia and start an NGO that helps hundreds of kids and teens every week to get education, food and a vision for their life. Hundreds are blessed today, because one lady back in the 70s takes an abandoned baby girl from the street – without fearing the consequences.

I have heard the story many times. I have been to the NGO in Cambodia. And still, I am in awe every time I think of that storylining again. That one woman fleeing the Khmer Rouge changes a whole generation of Cambodian people today who live in that area.

It leads to the question: Are you aware that the decisions you take today can influence many people in the future?

What if the young professional you are training today, becomes the next head of a big department? What did that person learn from you and most likely will use in his/her leadership style?

What if you could speak potential and positivity in your team mates instead of bringing your emotional ‘bad-hair-day’ to work? You have a position today – no matter how insignificant you might feel. And it is up to you how you fill your work day and interaction with clients and colleagues.

Let’s think of this for a moment: Everytime you consider the long term perspective, a lot of the current hustle becomes irrelevant. The emotionally nagging moments get flattened when you think of what good can come out of it.

You lost an important client? – That’s bad. But how do you react? And who is watching? What kind of an example are you?

You could pick a fight with a colleague – or you surrender and ‘loose’ this one argument for winning a favour in the future?

You have an impact on your team mates everyday. You choose what kind of an example you want to be.

Blind spot!

If your company is selling services and knowhow, your biggest asset are the people who serve and bring in their knowledge. If your people leave, your service leaves.

Sales. Revenue. Profit. The reason business is done. But what actually impacts the financial success of a company?

Just recently I heard a conversation in the train going like this: “I would have loved to pitch for that project! It’s totally our topic! Unfortunately I had to withdraw from the request for proposal because the key resources on that topic just left the company and we had no one with the same knowledge.”

I was stunned. How would you even consider a topic to be “yours” if there is no one available in your company!?

This obvious mismatch wasn’t visible for the business man in the conversation. He was convinced that his company was selling topics – and didn’t even consider that people could be the key for financial success.

Blind spot!

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a blind spot an area you cannot see and draws an analogy to driving a car. It is quite obvious how dangerous it is when you are entering a part of the road you were not able to see and all of a sudden there is an obstacle. The realization of that danger makes your heart bump and you are bright awake and ready to change directions.

blind spot

noun [C usually singular ] UK /ˈblaɪnd ˌspɒt/ US /ˈblaɪnd ˌspɑːt/

an area that you are not able to see, especially the part of a road you cannot see when you are driving, behind and slightly to one side of the car

Cambridge Dictionary

This awareness in context of companies and people is rarely given. You seldom see managers make a mayor change in their people management even when they see obstacles ahead – e.g. declining of sales or rise of attrition.

There is another definition for blind spot that is quite helpful in bringing in a new perspective.

a subject that you find very difficult to understand at all, sometimes because you are not willing to try

Cambridge Dictionary

When you are facing failure in business, e.g. the missed proposal of the mentioned story, it is easier to focus on aspects that you are familiar with [“that is our topic”], than on aspects that are much harder to understand [“we missed to keep our key resources” or “we missed on training new people in that knowledge”]. But an honest reflection in the sight of failure can work miracles for you.

If your company is selling services and knowhow, your biggest asset are the people who serve and bring in their knowledge. If the people leave, your service leaves. If your people are not trained, your company will deliver poor quality. Ultimately you will see the effect in your P&L.

Let me challenge you a bit:

  • How do you see your people?
  • Do you think they actually like working for you?
  • What could you do to keep your people in your business?

We all have blind spots every once in a while. Let’s make sure that we don’t keep them due to laziness to check on them and unwillingness to change. Because when it already has an effect on your P&L, it is quite late to take turns.

Will your tombstone inspire others?

Make sure your name is associated with positive attributes that people love to remember.

Lately I had a chat with a colleague coming from another continent – consequently having an unfamiliar name to an European ear. Immediately he was offering a German name as substitute. Since the name was so special – lets say old-school – I asked him laughing why he had chosen it. “Easy”, he said, “I went jogging on the graveyard regularly and I saw that particular name so often on tombstones that I got inspired to pick it for myself.” 

“Wow. Inspired by a tombstone”, I thought – not sure whether to be impressed or awkwardly moved. 

And then my thoughts began to wander… what will be written on my tombstone when the day of tombstone-necessity comes? Will it be inspiring? With what characteristics do I want to be remembered? 

While I continued thinking, I realized that positive remembrance is not limited to death – actually I can recall several leaders in my life whose major attributes I easily can determine and whose attitude impressed me in a way that I wanted to be like them in that particular behavior. If I had to sum up what made them special, most certainly I put on the list: authentic behavior, a trustworthy charisma and interest in people. 

Authentic Behavior 

Despite the fact that I didn’t like all facets of my leaders, I could always rely on their authenticity. The mixture of strengths and flaws made them unique, approachable and – simply put – human. They used to communicate when they were having a bad day. So it was easy to know that a more quiet behavior didn’t mean that there is a problem around. 

In addition, all of them had a basic set of behaviour you could rely on. They were approachable for team members, always open-minded and friendly. One leader put it this simple: don’t scream at people and don’t throw stuff. 

Don’t scream at people and don’t throw stuff. 

A Leader

Trustworthy Charisma 

People I can recall as influential leaders in my life all had a certain charisma. I don’t think of an unspecific atmosphere or esoteric type of feeling, but rather a respect that rose in people who have worked with these people over a longer period of time. Foremost this respect was fueled by a predictability of the leaders behaviour. Everyone knew how this person would react to a specific situation (mainly calm, well-thought-through but clear), and this predictability would allow team members to take decisions. Team members could predict whether they will have the backing of their boss – and this led to freedom, respect and trust. 

Interest in people

Last but not least, leaders I recall as inspiring always had an interest in me. And in others. They “saw” their team and spoke to people on an individual level. It’s probably one of the hardest parts – having an intense job with extreme responsibilities and still take time to show interest in people. To stop at the coffee kitchen for 30 seconds just to ask how it is going or to pad someone shoulder for great work the day before. 

But if you think back – you remember the names of exactly those people. People who saw you. People who were interested in you and your well-being. 

And even when their names will be written on a tombstone, they will be remembered.