The Fallacy of Unpredictability

leadershipOccasionally I have worked with leaders who believe that unpredictability on their part keeps their teams “on their toes.” The current President also subscribes to this philosophy although as to whether this is a strategy or just a result of impulse remains to be seen.

In either case, however, the result when leading a team (or a country) is usually not good. It is frequently used as a negotiating tactic and occasionally it’s successful. However, as a leadership strategy, it rarely produces positive results.

Employees need four things in a workplace according to Gallup; trust, compassion, stability and hope. Unpredictability as a tactic runs counter to all of these. When employees are fearful, lacking in hope, don’t trust the stability, or are not treated with compassion they do a number of things. They leave, they create drama, they resist, or they just quit while still on the job. What they aren’t is productive. So if it’s long-term results you’re looking for with your team, you might want to examine how you can be more predictable.

This does not mean telegraphing your every move, making sure everyone knows what you are doing, when and where you are doing it. It means that THEY are treated predictably, they know what to expect and they know how to succeed. If something changes with the direction of the company, the vision or mission or their work group priorities, they expect it to be communicated with as early as possible. And most importantly, in a way that takes into consideration how their work might need to change as a result. What’s in it for them and how can they now succeed based on the changed circumstances is critical information that must be communicated, without this, you break trust and people are less productive.

Think about the leaders you have followed and respected – I’m pretty sure the last thing you would say about them was that they were unpredictable. As human beings, we don’t much like change and lack of predictability means constant change. Those leaders who you admired and who would follow anywhere were most likely predictable. Not in everything they did but in how they led. You knew what to expect, you knew how to succeed, and most importantly you knew how you would be communicated with, especially when change was or had occurred.

Good leaders are able to provide some stability in chaotic situations. They see “around the corner” and help us predict what will happen. They give us an opportunity to learn and grow and change when needed. More importantly, they provide us with trust, compassion, stability and hope. Think about your leadership style and see if your employees would say that you create stability through predictability, if not, you may consider a different approach. You’ll be glad you did.