Consistency: A Key to Leadership (a.k.a. beware of exceptions)

Most great leaders understand intuitively that consistency is an important part of leadership. That’s because the most effective leaders know that in order to be perceived as a strong leader they must maintain a strong set of values, live by a certain code of conduct, effectively communicate these to different constituencies, and then lead by example. One cannot appear to be one thing to one group of people and something else to a different set—there needs to be one “you” if you are to be viewed as an stalwart leader.

“The final requirement of a leader is to earn trust,” Peter Drucker once said. “Trust is the conviction that the leader means whet he says…a leader’s actions and a leader’s professed beliefs must be congruent, or at least compatible. Effective leadership—-and again this is very old wisdom—is not based on being clever; it is based primarily on being consistent.”      

This is why President Obama is in danger of losing real credibility as a leader. On his first day as president Obama signed new legislation that amounted to new ethics laws. He said he would be the most transparent or “open” president ever, and that he would freeze salaries on all staffers making $100,000 or more. He also vowed to keep lobbyists out of top management posts. 

During the campaign, Obama pledged that “no political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointees will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration,” according to

However, on January 23rd the White House issued a statement that its new, harsher ethics rules won’t apply to filling the number two position at the Pentagon, candidate for deputy Defense secretary, William Lynn. That’s because Lynn was a lobbyist for the defense contractor Raytheon through January 15th, 2009 (right, 2009, not 2008 or 2007).   

Obama, who has called for a new level of integrity in government (“change you can believe in”), also has two strikes against him for another matter—the number of cabinet choices who have suffered from tax problems, or more specifically, “not paying-taxes” problems.

First, there was Timothy Geithner, who has since been confirmed as Treasury Secretary by the slimmest percentage of victory of any Obama appointee (60-34). He had failed to report $34,000 in taxes. Then comes word that Obama’s choice for Health and Human Services Secretary, former senator Tom Daschle, failed to pay $128,000 that he owed in taxes. Both men had excuses, yet both failed to pass the smell test. 

After all, Geithner, a darling of Wall Street, now has the highest money job in the land—and he didn’t know that he had to pay back taxes?  

Leadership, or more precisely, effective leadership, has a price, and it has to be more than the price of expediency. Obama insists that these men could not be replaced, that they are simply too important to drop, but something has got to give. The unfortunate reality is that a leader cannot simply make these sorts of exceptions when it is convenient to do so. In other words, one more iffy candidate could tip the scales against Obama’s perception as a strong leader, causing his huge popularity to nosedive.    





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