This one leadership quality will make or break you

@gumboshowjoe passed me an article yesterday titled, “This one leadership quality will make or break you.” Of course I loved this title as I write a lot about leadership on this blog.

As I often do, I decided to write a blog post as if that was the title, before reading the article, to see where I land compared with the original author. So…

The one leadership quality that will make or break you

The answer to this one was tougher to get to than I originally thought. I had several ideas but then as I thought through them I realized that they probably weren’t correct.

Flexibility / Adaptability ~ This was one of the first thoughts I had but then I realized that in certain areas of leadership, such as the military, flexibility isn’t necessarily a quality you need to excel at in order to be successful. As an entrepreneur I think its a must, but for leadership across the board, probably not as much of a requirement.

Positive attitude ~ I talk about this a lot. Being a positive person is one of my mantras, in fact. And I believe you can’t really be great at anything if you don’t have a positive attitude. However, I’ve known people that have been very successful in leadership that haven’t been particularly positive. This is another one that I think I mix up with entrepreneurship. I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur that wasn’t also a positive person.

Others that made the list but had reasons why they didn’t work: Work ethic (I’ve seen lazy people that somehow lead a great team), Not Being a D-Bag (unfortunately I’ve seen plenty of D-bags lead successfully), CollaborationExpertise, and Making the Tough Decision (like I mention in this Netflix post).

All of these, unfortunately, were wrong. Good qualities for a leader to have, but not the make or break quality I was looking for.

So then I started thinking, where have I seen leaders fail and what caused them to be unsuccessful? And then it hit me.

The Ability to Delegate ~ This is the one quality that I believe will make or break leadership. The very essence of the word, leadership, involves that you have people to lead. And you can’t lead people without being good at delegating responsibility.

I’ve seen many leaders who can execute their trade to an incredible level – build the product, deliver the service, etc. – who then have an extremely hard time teaching and trust others to do the work.

But delegating isn’t simply about pushing work down that you don’t want to do yourself. The beauty of effective delegation is that it accomplishes what I think are two of the goals of leadership – actually leading toward the future and developing the skills of your team.

First, it frees up the leader to effectively run the team. When a leader is too deep in the weeds it is hard for them to make sound, long-term decisions. By having people under him/her to make these decisions, the leader can concentrate on making sure that the team is focused on the goals and moving in the right direction. This is CRITICAL to any team’s success.

Second, in order to delegate, you must have capable people to delegate to. Which means you inherently have to be good at hiring the right people, and training and mentoring them in order to get them to a place where they can take on more responsibility.

And sometimes you have to push people to grow on their own; to be able to overcome obstacles by taking matters into their own hands. A good leader doesn’t simply show someone the answer.  Sometimes its better if the team member gets there on their own. It’s one of the things I do as a leader that often pisses off my employees. This is another form of delegating – you’re delegating the decision-making process to your team member so over time they can build that skill themselves.

So what did the original author say was the one leadership quality that will make or break you? Pursuit. It’s a well written article and I can’t argue too much with his logic, but I feel like pursuit is too generic and applies to pretty much everything. That’s kind of like saying “Excellence” – excellence at delegating, excellence at decision-making, excellence at mentoring… Feels like a cop out to me, but I can’t disagree with what he writes in his article.

PS – As I reflect on this post, I like where I landed. I honestly didn’t know where I would end up until I got mid-way through writing this. However, I believe I could have gone another route and landed at this: Putting the right people in the right job at the right time. I have many thoughts on this particular quality, so I’m going to have to explore that in another post. For now I’m sticking with The Ability to Delegate as I think its the killer skill set of an effective leader.