Last week my wife and I met with our financial advisor. His message was pretty blunt: the markets are volatile.
He went on to explain that this was the result of low oil prices, economic conditions in China and the growing fears of yet another global recession.
As he typically does in these situations, our advisor reassured us that things will get better, but only after they get worse. Now this was hardly news to us. In fact, this very scenario was robustly outlined in a recent article in The Guardian that warned we haven’t quite seen the bottom of this downturn yet.
I’d like to say that my wife and I didn’t lose a wink of sleep about all this. However, even though intellectually we know that volatility is a market reality, and it’s all about cycles of growth followed by volatility and uncertainty, it is still unnerving.
Let’s face it, volatility makes people nervous no matter where it exists. Recent research reported in the Academy of Management Journal found that having a volatile approach to leadership is far more unnerving and stressful for employees.
It seems that consistency is critical to great leadership. So much so that the researchers concluded that if you are always a jerk as a leader, it’s a better proposition than having a more variable style where you are a jerk one day and a nice person the next.
The research included a lab experiment where scientists monitored the heart rates of participants to measure stress levels. They divided 160 college students into two rooms and gave them a stock-pricing task. The participants were told that the students in the other room would act as their immediate supervisor and would regularly provide feedback.
Little did they know that it was the researchers providing the feedback. By design, a third of the participants were always treated fairly. Another third of the students were treated unfairly. The final third received inconsistent treatment – treated both fairly and unfairly. They were told things like, “You should be ashamed of your efforts on that last round” or “It sucks to work with an unmotivated person.”
The participant group treated inconsistently showed far more stress than the other two groups who were treated consistently either in a fair or unfair manner.
These lab findings were tested against a field study that surveyed employees in a cross section of industries. Not surprisingly, the same conclusions emerged. Those employees with inconsistent or fickle managers were more prone to stress, job dissatisfaction, and even emotional exhaustion.
So, it seems pretty conclusive that consistency and predictability is a prime quality of a good leader. Now, it should be noted that I would never counsel a leader who was a jerk to be a consistently prolific jerk or tyrant. Over the long term, that kind of behavior has its own consequences. I think it’s pretty clear that being consistently fair is the key to a truly successful leader.
Reflect on your personal leadership style. Would your employees describe you as erratic? Are you prone to going off like a loose cannon one day, and then being incredibly nice the next?
Your inability to find a consistently positive leadership style may not only be ramping up the stress levels in your organization, but it may also be preventing you from truly engaging the people you lead.
This week’s gut check asks: Are you a consistent or erratic leader?