One IT tech reported that, “As far as we know our computer has never had an undetected error.” The Massachusetts Department of Revenue sent out a letter to certain organizations which said, “Dear Taxpayer: Your permanent certificate of exemption is expiring shortly.” On a form sent to prospective jurors, they were allowed to select from a list of exemptions. One of them read “[ ] I cannot read or write.
In literature they’re called Irish bulls and they’re funny. In the business of leadership they are called double binds and can sound like this:
- Be creative and do things like I would do them.
- Think for yourselves, and also use my favorite book as your bible.
- Don’t worry about results, but get these six things done on time and under budget.
- Do things completely differently from how you’ve done them before, and the same old executives will judge your effectiveness.
Some of us send our subordinates messages like that without realizing it. Some do it intentionally. Either way, it compromises our ability to lead.
If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you’ll recognize a familiar theme. Every successful organization or company is led by values driven and vision oriented leaders. The vision is the always-present focus of everything they do. Values are the ethics and morals that fix the parameters of our actions and attitudes.
Superlative leaders are coherent. They do not send mixed messages. What they say is what they do and what they reward. The connection between the components that make up what we are and do must be readily visible. Coherence has three characteristics.
- Clear – say what you mean and mean what you say. Use precise terms and give specific instructions so there is no doubt what you intend, what you expect, or what you mean. Avoid spin, the technique of twisting words and data to favor the speaker.
- Concise – this does not merely mean few words. It means precise words. It means well-chosen words. And it means economy.
- Consistent – this is the most important characteristic by far and the essence of the quality of coherence. Stay on track. Don’t jerk people around. Managers who announce to their sales staff that absolutely no discounts can be offered under penalty of dismissal then begin giving discounts themselves in order to reach a sales target send a mixed message…and they teach their subordinates not to take the manager seriously or to believe what they say.
When a leader is not coherent, s/he introduces confusion in the system and provokes irritation and anger in the ranks. Neither is good for anyone or for the company. What’s more, your associates and subordinates will learn to react to what you say rather than respond.
You want to be respected, not ridiculed, listened to not laughed at. Incoherence is the indicator of madness. Check your directives, your orders, your pronouncements and announcements. Do they sound clear, concise, and consistent or not?