Building Higher Trust 124 Consistency

Consistency is a noble trait for leaders to possess.  In most situations, being consistent will enhance relationships and build trust.  The rule is not absolute, however, there are times when being consistent is not the best policy. This article will describe some of the factors that govern when to be consistent and when to show flexibility.

Leading when conditions are changing

If a leader is faced with changing conditions or new information, it may be necessary to adjust their approach. It may be wise to make decisions that are different from those they have made in the past. In such cases, it may be more important to be agile and adaptable than to be consistent.

Consistency versus flexibility

Being consistent does not mean being inflexible. A leader can be consistent in their values and principles, yet be flexible in approach.  Be open to feedback and willing to adjust your approach when necessary. Consider the individual needs and personalities of your team members.  You must adjust your leadership style accordingly.

Steel and Velvet

In their book Triple Crown Leadership, my friends Bob and Gregg Vanourek introduced a concept called steel and velvet. The idea is that leaders need to be both steel and velvet.  They must be firm and unmovable on certain issues, like living the values. They should also be flexible and willing to bend to allow for situations that are negotiable.

The challenge is to know when to be steel and when to be velvet. Bob and Gregg offer some tips on the concept in their landmark book.

The authors posit that great leaders are always on a quest.  They are passionate about reaching their goals and doing so the right way.  When the quest is threatened, that is when great leaders are like steel.  They do not bend.  When conditions are softer, it is often better to be flexible and bend as needed. Doing so will provide for maximum engagement of people.

Consistency versus rigidity

When leaders fail to take ambient conditions into account in the name of being consistent, they become rigid. It can be a fine line when to do one thing versus the other. The best advice is to assess the nature of your immediate situation.

Determine if being consistent is right or wrong for this case.  Your long-term success as a leader will be greatly influenced by the quality of your choices.

Avoid being too soft

Some leaders are all over the place.  They have no consistency, and it hurts their reputation. Make sure you have some principles and use your backbone to stand up for them. If you always bend to make people happier, you will become known as a weak leader.

There is a place for consistency in leadership, but it is an interesting science since being consistent is not always the right answer.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

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