01 April 2021

The Power of a Predictable Leader

"Nor yet be overeager in pursuit of any thing; for the mercurial often happen to leave judgment behind them, and sometimes make work for repentance."

--William Penn

In a recent survey of over 1,000 executives, more than half--in different industries--said their roles had changed due to the pandemic. Some 30 percent said their jobs have changed permanently, according to Chicago-based WittKieffer, who sponsored the research.  

The study raises this implication--many leaders are being asked to do work they weren't previously trained or prepared to do. "While some are excelling in a new environment, other executives are struggling to find their place during the pandemic," the report stated.

That analysis describes how an outside force like COVID-19 causes disruptive change. 

What are organizations doing to themselves?

Destabilizing influences

Even as the economy rebounds, it's hard to blame any remaining woes on infectious disease.    

Professor Howard Stevenson, who teaches at Harvard University, says that companies were destroying necessary predictability leading up to 2020.  

"The practices that leaders are adopting to make their organizations more competitive are ignoring the human need for predictability," Stevenson observed. "Corporations must recognize the paradox that many management tools, in fact, destroy what holds the organization together," he concluded.  

(C) The Telegraph

That need for predictability among associates is not a need for guarantee--it's a need for clarity and consistency.

Professor Stevenson points to the following causes of damage to employee morale and cultural glue:

--Reengineering throws out all the old procedures and rules of thumb by which an organization has operated.

--Continuous improvement programs promise only that an organization's rules will continue to change.

--Matrix management requires that two (or more) managers, who need not agree with each other, judge employees' work and determine their future in the company.

--Rightsizing sheds people, often regardless of their individual skills or performance.

In the age of Zoom Professor Stevenson adds that "nowhere is the notion of predictability more threatened than in a virtual organization which is not much of an organization at all."


Mercurial describes someone whose mood or behavior is changeable and unpredictable; or who is clever, lively, and quick. It's out of that temperament where management fads often originate. Compulsive behavior is the opposite of being predictable.   

Apple's Steve Jobs had a mercurial style. His behavior included rapid and unpredictable change but also qualities of eloquence and ingenuity.  

The real world is not straightforward and people are complicated. For example, working for an impulsive boss, which can be a difficult experience, means you must adapt or move on. 


British author, Roderic Yapp, writes that if you're working with people as part of a team, you want to be predictable. "You want to make it easy for them to meet your expectations because unpredictability is a nightmare for people trying to manage upwards," he notes.

How does one be more predictable? He offers the following advice:

1. Deepen the relationships you have with your people. 

How can you motivate someone and improve their performance if you know nothing about them? Build a deeper relationship with the person by asking them about their personal history. What is important to them? What drives and motivates them? What do they want out of life, and how can you support that aspiration. 

In the exchanges, give them a roadmap to you.

2. Remove emotion from the equation.

Do you purposefully act in a chosen and deliberate manner, or are you simply reacting? The two are very different. Reactions happen quickly. 

The most common is when mistakes are made, tempers get lost, and voices get raised. These behaviors lead to a climate of fear and, at best, compliance. Impertinent conduct undermines open, honest conversation and challenge. It causes those around you unnecessary stress. An unbecoming habit can result in the best people leaving. 

Acting deliberately is a choice. It involves being aware of your behavior and its impact on other people. 

Gaining composure

We're all wired differently. However, remaining consistent and undisturbed inside that unique wiring is not always easy. It comes naturally to some, like doctors and airline pilots. But for others, it requires practice to get there. 

While leopards can't change their spots and tigers their stripes, we're not as fixed in our frame of mind as some might think. Maturing in attitude and behavior is a big part of professional development. In addition, personal growth leads to wisdom which is a desirable trait and an overlooked strength.  

Ultimately, the right kind of power and predictability accrues to a leader with self-control. In turn, that composure gives confidence to others when they need it the most.    


© Bredholt & Co.