Leadership By The Gallon, What Flavor This Month?

A Scoop of History:

Founded in the 1920s, Howard Johnson’s famously served up 28 ice cream flavors along America’s highway system. Baskin Robbins came along in the 1950s and upped the ante with its 31-derful flavors.

Over the years Ben & Jerry’s, Bruster’s, and others have joined the list of notable purveyors of the sweet treats, adding to the seemingly endless and senseless choices (including my new favorite flavor: Tooty Fruity Touch of Grey!)

Despite this explosion in choices, the penchant among Americans for the big three flavors has remained relatively constant over the years.

After adjusting for the curious popularity of Neapolitan (it’s the #3 bestseller in the grocery store,) the top three flavors in terms of U.S. ice cream consumption have remained relatively constant over the years: Vanilla (29%); Chocolate (15%); and Strawberry (6%). Despite endless alternatives, the big three account for over 50% of all ice cream consumed.

“Sprinkles” of Contrast:

  • To contrast the ice cream industry, have you observed the absence of a consistent leadership style among leaders?
  • If so, why so some leaders become like this?
  • Is the Flavor of the Month leader a positive or a negative development?

A “Cone” full of Answers:

My observation has been that most leaders switch their leadership messages frequently because they lack core-level confidence in their leadership style.

Perhaps the leaders who switch leadership messaging like it was the flavor of the month are not sure if they will be liked if they simply serve just “vanilla or chocolate.” Or, perhaps they are not sure if their team even likes vanilla or chocolate.  Or maybe they are not sure that vanilla or chocolate is as good as something as tantalizing as Peach-Fuzz-Ripple.

Not being 100% committed to their own message, ineffective leaders repeatedly switch among a multitude messages.  They are continually open to something new because of their lack of confidence in the tried-and-true. They get excited and hope the next flavor will do the trick.

This can result in a team hearing a variety of messages that end up undercutting constancy of understanding, purpose, and direction for the team’s efforts.

Then there are those leaders who believe constant change and a steady influx of new ideas is a vital part of leadership. Continuing education ranks high with these leaders and the Flavor of the Month fits the bill.

Also, the unchecked ego of the leader can also be at play in a Flavor of the Month organization. How many leaders do you know place events in motion merely to show their own knowledge of the subject?

How many Flavor of the Month leadership lessons have you observed simply because your boss read a new best-seller or attended a conference?

Did the Flavor relate to the organization’s needs? Was it as memorable as that Licorice-Mocha-Lime-Twist cone your leader double-dipped for you last month? Did it lead to more resistance or did it lay the foundation for positive change?

Or did the impact of the latest leadership flavor simply melt in the bowl and eventually turn sour?

The Banana “Split” – Positive or Negative?

As for the question “is Flavor of the Month leadership positive or negative,” I propose that most leaders are not effective enough to be constantly mixing and switching messages. Effective leaders understand the vital importance of patience and consistency.

This is not to say that new ideas and new directions are not valued in an organization, but leaders who constantly seek to impress with the Flavor of the Month do so by sacrificing the power and clarity of a consistent message. This is definitely a negative for organizations.

In advertising, the power of any message is its constancy repetition. Having worked in politics earlier my career, I became acutely aware of the importance of a clear, consistent, and repetitious message.

This is also true of organizational leaders.  We don’t have the luxury of constantly mixing our messages in a Flavor of the Month approach.

Leaders need to have the patience to stay on message. This is the best way to get the positive results your organization needs. Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry have been around for a long time. And for a good reason. Resist the urge to throw the tried-and true workhorses overboard every month merely because someone invented Granola-Melon-French-Fry-Delight and made it available to you.

“As for me…I’ll have vanilla. Oh, wait… make that a double, please.”

What “Leadership of the Month” approaches have you seen in the workplace?  Are there “trends” that many leaders are trying for the first time just because they are new?  Do you feel that frequently trying out new leadership ideas helps or hurts an organization?  As a leader, are you willing to live chocolate, sleep chocolate and consistently incorporate chocolate into your message? On the other hand, how have you been pleasantly surprised by a new flavor?

Bookmark Leadership By The Gallon, What Flavor This Month?

Robert C. Varga is Executive In Residence at Kennesaw State University
He is a trusted adviser to chief executives and business owners

Email | LinkedIn | Twitter

Image Sources: student.chula.ac.th, watchmojo.com, mentaljokes.com, bbs.chinadaily.com.cn


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