Consistency of Character

We all know difficult people. In fact I’d challenge anyone to look around them and not find at least one person at work that you’d just prefer not to talk to or avoid dealing with. That person who fires off email bombs, takes over meetings to force their own agenda or is very selective about what they share, when and with whom. At my company there is one person who is famous for screaming at anyone who has incurred her wrath which is jokingly treated as almost a club initiation. I hope, in most organizations, that these people don’t make it into management. I know that this is not always the case. But what about the people who occasionally act badly, those that normally are fine to work with but every once in a while slip into difficult territory?

I’ll give you some examples:

Your request for an update on a project is answered with a “Get in line!”

“Sure, I can spend all day doing your job for you.”, when you ask for assistance with an issue.

Being put down, shut down or even let down in front of your peers.

It’s hard to know exactly what to do next; you’ve just unwittingly taken the brunt of someone else’s emotional reaction squarely on the chin. And what happens the next time you need to talk to them, are you going to stress over how they’re going to react? I think those that are consistently difficult are by virtue of that consistency so much easier to deal with, while those that are inconsistent are creating a chilling effect, you just avoid them because you don’t know what to expect.

Early on in my career I had a mentor who was very careful about ensuring he behaved in a manner consistent with the situation at all times.  He impressed upon me the importance of consistency in manner and appropriateness in response. In my day to day actions I try to always keep in mind that if I am not only a leader of my own team but an example of leadership to other people in my department; making sure that my reactions are even, constructive and positive, I believe, is key to my ability to remain in a position of authority.

People may not say anything or confront you, instead they take away an impression that builds and potentially solidifies over time that you cannot be counted on.

Margaret Thatcher has a great quote on this subject: “Watch your thoughts for they become words.  Watch your words for they become actions.  Watch your actions for they become habits.  Watch your habits for they become your character.  And watch your character for it becomes your destiny.  What we think we become.”

I don’t think it matters what level of management you are in, whether you are responsible for people or processes, whether you are in a department of 2 or 100, whether you are highly visible or fly under the radar – What is most important as a leader is displaying your character, your strength of character, every day and in every moment.


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