How do you show consistency as a leader?

This week marks the kickoff of our 15th class of “USV Manager Bootcamp.” Built in collaboration with LifeLabs Learning, this four-week training brings together new managers and high-potential employees across our portfolio network to teach them skills that define great managers.

In the end, participants come away having learned four key skills: Coaching, feedback, prioritization / time management, and effective one-on-one’s.

I’ve sat through the entire course a half-dozen times by this point, and and I always carry away something new each time.

But one of my favorite parts of this program are the little elements that we add in to customize it a bit more to the companies in the USV Network. At each session kickoff, I lead a one-hour “get to know you” discussion to introduce the group to each other and warm up the conversation around management and leadership.

In one activity, I ask everyone to think about management and leadership traits that they might like to be remembered for by their direct reports. As people share characteristics (things like: visionary, empathetic, and dependable come up a lot), I record them live on the whiteboard. After building an exhaustive list of aspirational character traits, I ask people to think about one or two that feel particularly “hard to reach.”

“Looking at this list on the board,” I might ask, “What seems hard for you to do in your day-to-day at work today?”

Last week, one trait rose to the top: Consistency.

I circled it with the marker. “What makes this hard?” I asked.

The room sort of collectively shrugged.

“It’s just hard to be consistent when everything around us is always changing,” someone volunteered.

“TOTALLY.” I acknowledged. “And that just might be the trickiest part of all about startup life.”

We talked about ways we’ve seen consistency modeled well in leaders and people that we know.

“It’s kind of basic,” said one woman, “But something that feels really nice is how we have the same all-hands meeting every Friday. We talk about the same stuff week after week. What went well, what didn’t go well. Even if things were missed, at least we all still know exactly what we’re tracking. It’s a really good way to end the week.”

I love this example. It goes to show how even the most seemingly benign example — simply convening a group and going over the same information week after week — can add a lot to people’s feeling of safety and security at work. Let’s not kid ourselves: Weekly meetings aren’t new or novel ideas. They’ve been a tenet of management for decades and decades. But in this case, it’s the execution and the repeatability of it that counts more.

It’s not even that every meeting has to be a mind-blowing success. I particularly appreciated how she noticed that even when things got a little funky at work that week, simply talking about it publicly helped to reassure people around her. There’s an easy saying in change management I still carry with me from my consulting days: “If you don’t know, just say you don’t know.” This acknowledgement can be a really powerful tool.

“That’s a really good example,” I said. “Does anyone else have an example to share about how you’ve seen consistency modeled well around you?”

The room remained quiet. Nobody else spoke up. Maybe we were all lost in thought. Maybe we couldn’t think of any other examples. But the moment had passed.

“Consistency is hard,” I repeated. “Maybe this is one that we can all work on together.”

Originally published at Dry Erase.

GM @USV, alum of @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC

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