Flip flop leadership: Why this style of leadership is so damaging

Changing tack in leadership can be beneficial. In today’s ever-evolving, technology-driven and innovation-charged world, nothing stays the same forever. And if you stand still, you will be left behind.

But when leaders change their mind and their vision from one day to the next, it can completely erode trust, breakdown workplace relationships and leave their credibility in tatters.

This type of leadership, where leaders U-turn (and sometimes even U-turn on their U-turns) can be described as a flip flop leadership.

Defining flip flop leadership

We’ve spoken before about the qualities strong leaders possess.

Powerful leaders lead by example. They set a clear vision, make decisions and map out ‘where to’ next. But they’re also open to change, not afraid of taking calculated risks and are happy to admit when they’re wrong.

But flip flop leaders are inclined to bounce from one decision to the next. Driven by external events, the opinion of new people or perhaps a lack of confidence in their own abilities.

 So why can flip flop leadership styles be so damaging?

As we’ve seen ourselves from the government’s recent U-turn on the scrappage of the Covid-19 restrictions and vaccinations – when a leader turns from one decision to another, it can look inconsistent.

It can also result in:

  • The loss of trust

As Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google: “There’s no team without trust.”

Trust is the glue that holds the leader and their team together. It’s a value that helps a leader’s followers feel committed to the vision they are portraying. And it’s what keeps them working collectively together.

  • The killing of morale

Flip flopping can have a massive impact on team morale. Of course, some change is necessary. But if a leader is conducting constant U-turns, it can take time for people to understand why the changes are happening and what the changes are before they decide to buy-into the leader’s new decision.

  • Damaged relationships

Key decisions are always set at the top. But nine times out of ten, it’s not the leader translating the message down to the individuals on the front line. It’s the middle managers who have the difficult task of having to disseminate the message.

And when a leader decides to change tack from one day to the next, it’s the middle managers who once again have to communicate a whole new set of instructions. This in turn can result in fractured relationships between the middle managers and their team. As well as the middle managers and the leader.

  • A lack of employee engagement

Which in turn can see the break-down of psychological safety. Psychological safety is all about feeling able to bring your whole self to work. It’s also about being accepted and respected within a team and having the confidence to voice beliefs, seek feedback or ask for support without thinking it will have a negative impact on how you are perceived or your success in the workplace.

What we can learn from this

A flip flop leadership style can be highly problematic. We’re not saying that leaders can’t change their mind – especially if new and credible information has come to light.

But when it comes to making changes – like so many things, it’s all about communication.

Leaders aren’t expected to know all the answers off the top of their heads. But it’s important that your team knows the lines of communication are open. And there is method behind the madness.

Explaining to your employees what is going on in an open and honest manner and providing the reasons behind decisions will help reduce adverse reactions and responses. It will help staff feel included and respected while promoting trust and lowering levels of anxiety. It will also help your middle management motivate those on the front line so they manage the changes in a smooth and efficient way. After all honesty is the best policy, right?

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