Thursday Thoughts on Leadership: Leaders Are Not Always Predictable

Leaders are not necessarily predictable people. Being unpredictable will keep the team from falling into a mental comfort zone. By suggesting that a leader needs to be unpredictable, does not mean they should not act the same way regardless of the circumstances. Those they lead should be able to anticipate how a leader might think and or act, because after all the act of leadership implies that your followers have a sense of where you are going. Great leaders are purpose-driven and their actions arise from an observable belief system and common goals. However, if the leader becomes too predictable, it will affect their ability to keep their people sharp and on their toes. In managing a real estate office and coaching real estate agents, I have always believed that you should create an environment that is positive, conducive to growing, motivating and above all, challenges people to do their best. As a leader, you have to achieve this without becoming predictable.

The most effective leaders often have the quality of being somewhat unpredictable. They understand that if they are predictably difficult or predictably easy going, their charges will become predictably comfortable and will not be ready for the next opportunity or the next challenge. In real estate or any highly competitive environment, feeling comfortable is the first step on the road to complacency. Complacency is the most insidious disease in the world. It sits on your shoulder telling you everything is fine and that you don’t need to improve.

In last year’s Super Bowl between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, one team fell victim to this. Obviously, both teams represented the best of what the National Football league has to offer. Great owners, great coaches and great players were represented on both sides, as well as great preparation. The game represented the culmination for what some players was a lifetime of training and preparation for this moment. At the start of the second half of what had been a close game, but one that had definitely started to favor the Indianapolis Colts, both in the score and the play on the field; a bold and unpredictable decision was made and it changed the tide of the game. The Saints Head Coach, Sean Peyton, decided to try an onside-kick, a highly questionable and very risky play that is an attempt to surprise the receiving team. So risky in fact, that it had never been attempted at this point in any of the previous forty-three Super Bowls.

The Saints not only recovered the ball, but regained the momentum in the game and went on to dominate the second half en route to the first championship in team history. They were not complacent; they were ready for the unexpected. I guarantee that when the play was called, they were as surprised as anyone, but they were ready for it. The Colts were not, they were complacent. No one had ever tried it, why would the Saints try it now? Peyton has created one of the most dynamic offenses in the league because he does not always do the predictable. He does not follow the script on how football should be played. He trusts his players and makes decisions based on the expectation that they will succeed. In turn, because his players know that he can call any play at any time and for any player, they are always ready to execute at any moment and in any situation. In fact, the player that made the biggest play was not a star, but a reserve, someone who barely gets on the field. But all men on the roster know they are accountable.

As an office manager, one method I used to help keep agents on their toes was in the way I announced sales results. Each month, instead of just posting what the top performers did, I would post what everyone did, even if they had no sales in the period. It kept everyone accountable and on their toes. Remember, our business of real estate is not for the weak-willed or faint of heart. It is for those of us that get sick to the stomach if we are not in the top 10% in any competitive environment. I can still recall seeing first-hand how it motivated the agents to be sure and not show up at the bottom of that list with a goose egg by their name.

Ideally, those you lead are driven to excel by the expertise, inspiration, motivation and example you offer. Many times it takes more than that. Sometimes changes are necessary, sometimes opportunities spring up or challenges present themselves out of nowhere. The leader who exhibits some unpredictability and thus instills an ethos of always being ready in the team will achieve success. Who knows, maybe some day you will be asked to make the most important play in the most important game of the season and the success of the entire team will ride on whether you are ready for the challenge or not.