Consistency Wins By: Joshua Chamberlain Posted: February 29, 2012
In this age of trying to understand where everyone is coming from and catering to every little difference that people display, the concept of consistency seems to be coming under attack. While making everyone comfortable might be a noble pursuit, comfort, in and of itself, does not necessarily make people productive.
Above all else, productivity comes from operating within a clearly defined set of expectations. Be they children or adults, human beings falter when operating without a clear objective or procedure but thrive when expectations are made clear. The examples can be found everywhere.
A teacher hears the words “I didn’t know what you wanted” when receiving assignments or “I didn’t know I couldn’t do that” when dealing with disciplinary situations every day. The frequency and legitimacy of those statements, however, drops significantly when expectations are made clear. Getting assignments done on time, not eating in the classroom, and behaving properly in the hallways have nothing to do with a particular student’s learning style; they have everything to do with how clearly the expectations and repercussions are laid out.
What many educators forget is that students not only thrive on this consistency, they like it. Students’ frustration almost always comes from a lack of clarity or a lack of understanding about what he or she is expected to do. If those questions are answered ahead of time, the student is then free to focus on the task at hand rather than spending time wondering whether or not he or she is doing the right thing. Streamline the process, and you will get better results. At the very least, you will eliminate a series of excuses.
Football coaches love thinking about the details of the game and like to think of themselves as great strategists. Any strategy, however, especially at the high school level, can be easily undermined by a player’s inability to execute his assignment. Want to ensure success? Make sure your players know what to do and have the ability to do it on every single play. High school kids will make mistakes, and the coach that minimizes the potential for those mistakes is the one who, more often than not, will win the game.
This carries over to the college level as well. Jerry Kill at the University of Minnesota is an example of a coach who has won a lot of games at every level he has coached. His formula is simple: he makes his expectations clear for everyone involved in the program. Every player has his job taught to him by a group of coaches who also know what is expected of them. Kill recognizes that athletes will not perform at a high level if they are unsure of what is expected of them or if they have too much leeway when making decisions, both on and off the field. If you know your job, you are more likely to get it done.
Kill’s philosophy of making expectations clear carries over to his assistant coaches as well, and it is one reason why so many of his assistants have stuck with him for so long. They all see the value in Kills consistency and have bought into his system of working with his athletes.
An important point for all professionals to understand is that people actually gain more freedom when the rules and expectations are clearly laid out and consistently upheld. Even when people are forced to operate in the gray area, they will know how to react because they have a good understanding for what the overall direction should be.
Kill’s assistants have the freedom to teach skills the way they want to teach them because they know, with no ambiguity, what the goal is. Thus, clearly outlining responsibilities creates freedom for professionals. Not surprisingly, clearly outlining responsibilities also creates productivity. Like with athletes, professionals cannot act decisively if they do not know what is expected of them.
The benefit of being consistent when in a leadership position is that you shift responsibility from your hands to the hands of your charges. Students, athletes, and professionals all want responsibility. They want to be trusted and want to be treated with respect. That, after all, is the goal of leadership.
This is, of course, all good in theory. Now, your charges have to want to get the job done. THAT is a much trickier proposition.