Consistent Leadership vs. Agile Leadership: What Kind of Leader Are You?

Everyone knows the importance of consistency. Consumers expect consistent products and employees appreciate consistent leadership. People feel comfortable making plans when they know they can anticipate a certain level of consistency in the world around them. Consistency develops routines and builds habits that become almost second nature.

While stationed in the Middle East, I was fortunate to be assigned to work in Special Operations. These elite warfighters are as dedicated, professional and some of the best examples of teamwork you’ll ever find. When they offered to teach me to scuba dive in the Red Sea, how could I refuse that opportunity? Obviously, scuba diving requires the right equipment and a substantial amount of training, and it also contains potentially life-threatening hazards. The operators taught me that consistency in checking the equipment, following every step of the pre-dive process, adhering to diving best practices, and returning to the surface correctly could well be the difference between life and death.

The power of consistent leadership

In the business world, consistency is what builds momentum and gains brand loyalty. Colgate learned this the hard way when they decided to expand their product offerings in 1982 with a line of frozen food entrees. You’ve probably never seen “Colgate Kitchen Entrees” because their appearance in the marketplace was so short-lived. While the entrees might have tasted great, the product was so inconsistent with Colgate’s distinctive consumer reputation that people never bought in. No one wanted to buy frozen food from a toothpaste manufacturer.

Just as consumers expect brand consistency, your employees expect consistent leadership. Consistent leaders show up on time, work hard, set goals for themselves and their employees, and achieve those goals. When Alignment Leaders® model actions consistent with the organization’s values and reinforce the desired company culture, they are contributing to the organization’s differentiation and value. Diligence and consistency create loyalty, not only with your employees, but also with your customers.

Business success requires more than consistently implementing existing skills and strategies

Learning to scuba dive reminded me that consistency can become rigidity — and consistency alone is not enough. While consistency will get you safely underwater, sooner or later you will encounter hazards that are not survivable without the ability to change course and adapt. Urgent, life-threatening situations like nitrogen narcosis, oxygen toxicity, the possibility of developing a pulmonary embolism while surfacing, and the hazards posed by sea life can occur unexpectedly and require immediate attention and remediation. In much the same way, unexpected changes to the business world can require agile leadership.

Harvard Business Review noted that “if organizational leaders are merely consistent, they risk rigidity. In changing environments, they can struggle to adapt and may cling to old habits and practices until those practices become counterproductive, distracting them from the more important new work that needs to be done.” While it is important to remain adherent to the components of the organization’s core business model, a too-rigid leader may be unable or unwilling to sense new opportunities and use the firm’s assets in ways that allow the company to survive and prosper.

Constant changes in business markets require companies and business leaders to adapt and change, as we’ve seen in recent months as restaurants offer home delivery and clothing retailers ditch producing expensive suits in favor of masks and medical gowns. As a business leader, change becomes requisite whenever you assume additional or different responsibilities; and you will always need to be ready to pivot when necessary. An agile business leader will be a good communicator who is also intellectually curious and willing to change. Alignment Leaders®, in particular, are trained to continually look for organizational misalignments and strive to adapt their organization to change in a deliberate, yet differentiated, way.

Business success also requires more than agility

Neither consistency nor agility alone is sufficient for optimal leadership effectiveness. While some people may be great entrepreneurs because of their vision and agility, without a single-minded dedication to the current project, they may never achieve the full potential of their business. In a larger organization, purely agile leaders may jump to new projects haphazardly, leading their team or business into disorder.

Obviously, few people are naturally both consistent and agile — which type of leader are you?

  1. Do you thrive more in the focused pursuit of a goal (consistent) or in rectifying situations of chaos (agile)?
  2. Do you believe it is more important to invest in existing products or services (consistent) or to grow your company by innovating in new areas (agile)?
  3. Do you believe your organization’s success is proof that you are on the right track (consistent) or are you concerned that your business model may soon become obsolete (agile)?

How to become “ambidextrous” with consistency and agility

Once you understand your own tendencies, you can integrate a combination of consistency and agility into your leadership role. Here are a few suggestions that may help:

  • Surround yourself with others who will balance your strengths and weaknesses. If you are naturally an agile visionary, include in your advisory circle people who are methodical and structured. You may miss the discovery of great opportunities if you surround yourself with a clone-like team that thinks and responds in the same way you do.
  • Seek and listen carefully to diverse opinions from your leadership team. Be sure that the (typically consistent) powerful side of your organization does not crush the company’s ability to explore new ideas, as this may ultimately jeopardize future potential.
  • Create your organization’s overarching identity, including a defined strategy for the future, and get it out to your people. Challenge them to find innovative ways to achieve the company’s potential.
  • Be sure that while you are achieving goals through consistent leadership, you are also seeking to identify any organizational structure, business processes, or ways of working that may no longer be adequate to meet the needs of the environment and/or the market in which the company competes.

Just as a scuba diver may encounter a new hazard on every dive, business leaders have learned this year, if not previously, that hazards to organizations, our economy, and even our personal health can disrupt the way ahead. Business leaders who understand the importance of balancing consistency and agility in their organizations will take a careful, deliberate approach to nurturing current successes while also investing in innovative prospects for the future. The combination of agile and consistent leadership paves the way for a leader to become his or her strategic best.