Are you unreliable or adaptable? Your team wants to know.

SJ is a leader who feels pulled in several directions. Her Board and senior leaders enjoy her flexibility and ease with change. Her team is getting disgruntled. They are tired of being asked to turn-on-a-dime, and they wonder if she is more interested in her reputation than in what’s good for the business. In coaching, SJ wonders how she can better manage the tension between today’s implementation challenges and tomorrow’s breakthroughs.

Our conversation turns to the difference between being adaptable and being unreliable.

  • Adaptable leaders make changes in plans as a response to new, sometimes unexpected, data.  The changes are a conscious decision of what’s needed now, to continue to meet your goal or track in the right direction.
  • Unreliable leaders take their teams off-course by reacting to what’s happening now – They agree to a change because of a need to please, a fear of saying no, or because they are not paying close attention.

SJ realizes that her team doesn’t trust her. She seems unreliable, even wishy-washy to them. How can she let them know that her changes are based in adaptability, not in hierarchical powerlessness? She’s nervous too about what will happen when she decides to say no to her boss’s next request.

We look at a continuum of response. Some place between being too rigid and being too easy-going lies the strong leaders’ spot of being reliable.

Reliable is not the same as unmovable. It’s slightly different than consistent. It’s more like being consistent about when and how you change. A leader is reliable when:

  • They can articulate the guiding principles, values and beliefs that underpin their decisions and actions
  • They keep themselves informed and credible experts on the key success factors for their business and industry
  • They give attention to the things that matter most, and don’t get distracted by complex situations
  • They show consistency where it matters, like being even-tempered instead of moody, and consistently treating others with respect and dignity.

In a recent book, The CEO Next Door (Botelho, Powell & Raz) call “relentless reliability” one of the four behaviours that create world-class leaders. For SJ, reliability became a new way of leading and a pivot-point for building trust with others.

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