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By far the most difficult boss I’ve ever had was aninspiring, morally upstanding man. I respectedhim and learnt a lot from him. The problem was thatI could never predict how he would respond toanything.


Sometimes he would sidle past and say somethingsarcastic about a piece I’d written. At other timeshe would bound up, full of praise. Occasionally he would perch on the edge of my desk and talkas if he valued my opinion. The following day he would revert to glowering and ignore meentirely.


The very sight of him advancing down the corridor was enough to make me feel anxious. Whenhe was being nice, his face looked the same as when he was horrid and so I started to wonder ifhis praise was ironic. It was most disconcerting.


I thought of him the other day when I read a piece of research from the University of Michigansuggesting we would far rather have a manager who was horrible all of the time, than one whowas horrible only some of it. When it comes to our bosses, it seems we can cope with more orless anything — save unpredictability.

不久前,当我读到密歇根大学(University of Michigan)的一篇研究论文时,我又想起了他。这篇论文认为,比起一个在某些时候很可怕的管理者,我们宁愿要一个总是很可怕的管理者。对于老板,不论什么事情我们似乎多多少少总能应付——除了反复无常。

The researchers conducted a series of experiments in which they divided students into threegroups and gave them all a job to do. The first group was subjected to constant compliments;the second to constant abuse and the third to a mix of the two. The first group wasn’tstressed at all; the second was mildly so, while the third — the group that didn’t know if theywere going to get sticks or carrots — was by far the most stressed and least happy.


This experiment, written up in the American Academy of Management, reminds me of an earlierstudy in which rats were given electric shocks. One group heard a bell ring to herald each shock;a second group had shocks with no warning. The first group of rats fared more or less fine. Thesecond group, who could not predict the timing of the shocks, developed stomach ulcers.Workers and rats have a lot in common.

这篇由美国管理学会(American Academy of Management)发表的实验报告让我想起了一个更早的实验,那是一个大鼠受到电击的实验。第一组大鼠每次受到电击前都会听到一声铃响;第二组受到电击前则没有任何警示。第一组大鼠的状况总的来讲还好。而那些无法预测电击时机的第二组大鼠则患上了胃溃疡。员工与大鼠有很多相似之处。

Yet this idea that consistency is important is nowhere in the leadership literature.Predictability is considered boring and unglamorous, in a world that reveres creativity anddisruption.


A couple of weeks ago the Harvard Business Review published a blog about the most importanttraits of leaders, as reported by 195 global leaders themselves. These turned out to be a moreor less soppy list of “competencies” including “strong ethics”, “nurtures growth”, “has theflexibility to change opinions” and “is committed to ongoing training”. And so on.Predictability was nowhere on the list.

几周前,《哈佛商业评论》(Harvard Business Review)发布了一篇博文,内容是195名全球领导者自己提出的最重要的领导者特质。这是一张多少有点乏味的“素质”列表,包括“道德观念强”、“注重增长”、“能够灵活改变观点”和“致力于持续培训”等等。可预测性并不在这份列表上。

The only company I can find that explicitly values this is Google. Because it delights incollecting data and measures all leaders constantly, it has found that consistency is one ofthe most important qualities there is. When the boss isn’t consistent, people can’t do theirbest.


Predictability matters at work not just in relation to your boss — but to almost everything.People claim they love jobs in which every day is different, but there is little evidence to backthis up. Instead, studies in the US have shown that workers with unpredictable hours aremore stressed and less happy than those who keep a regular timetable.


If I think of my peers, I would probably tell you that I love working with people who surpriseme. But that isn’t true. I like working with people who interest me, but who do not surprise meat all. One close colleague is dependably always late. Even though I am obsessively punctual,I’ve become so used to his lateness that when last week he turned up early, I wasn’t delighted;I was slightly put out.


And it is not as if consistency is easy. Being consistent is very hard indeed. I know this fromhaving spent a quarter of a century at the coalface of motherhood. When bringing up my fourchildren I have tried to stick to some pretty basic principles that I consider important. Forinstance, that all family members must sit around a table once a day with no computer screens,eating the same thing at the same time. Some evenings I am unyielding in my adherence tothis principle. Yet there I was last week sprawled on the sofa with my son who was eating asupermarket pizza and watching something unsuitable on his iPad, while I both ate andwatched something else.


Predictability is the advanced class: unpredictability seems to be the default human condition.


I’ve just read an article in Psychology Today arguing that we became that way because it madeit harder for other hunter gatherers to take advantage of us in the jungle.

我刚刚读到了《今日心理学》(Psychology Today)的一篇文章,这篇文章主张,我们之所以会变成这样是因为这会让丛林之中的其他狩猎采集者更难以占到我们的便宜。

Maybe, although I suspect we are unpredictable at work because managing is unnatural andwe are weak and capricious. And self-control is not only difficult, it is sadly out of fashion.


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