The #1 Critical Leadership Skill

There are many critical skills necessary for effective leadership. There are hundreds of books written on the subject, covering topics as varied as humility, positive attitudes, building on your strengths, communicating effectively, and so on. A quick Google search tells us that the top leadership skills include communication, delegation, motivating the team, and trustworthiness, among many others.

Leadership is a difficult and complicated concept. There is no doubt that these skills are crucial to successful leadership. A wise, successful leader will surely look to develop all of these skills in order to be the best they can be.

Underlying these skills, however, lies one critical skill that needs more discussion. It is the absolute essence of leadership, and without it, none of the other skills matter much. It may be that this skill is seen as so elementary that we skip right over it, assuming that someone who considers themselves a leader has already developed this skill.

My experience says this is far from the truth. What skill is this?

The ability to make a decision.

After all, why do we have leaders? In order to make decisions! Hard ones, easy ones, decisions over which direction to go, who to hire, which product to sell, what processes to improve, and so on. Decisions are central to the operation of business. One might say that a decision to not make a decision is still a decision, but this is not the skill I am talking about today.

Making decisions is hard. After all, if things go awry, it’s your responsibility, your head on the plate! This can be especially daunting if large teams or entire companies are relying on your decisions. That is, however, part and parcel of the whole leadership gig. If someone chooses to become a leader, she/he must understand that this critical skill is at the heart of her/his new responsibilities.

Have you ever worked for someone who struggled with this skill? It can be the most frustrating experience of all time. Some of the greatest complaints and vexations I have heard over the years come as a result of a leader’s failure to make a decision.

It can look like this:

  • Employee: We’ve done the research
  • Leader: Yes, but did you look at this? Go back and pull more data

Or this:

  • Employee: Here is the recommendation we have developed
  • Leader: Let’s take this to the group and see what they think

Or even this:

  • Employee: So, the decision I heard was to move forward on this.
  • Leader: Yes, well, let me get back to you on that

These are just some of the ways ‘leaders’ avoid decision-making. Constantly looking for a definite answer that does not exist by continually searching for information is one of the most popular methods. In this situation, the leader feels no decision can be made until all possible data has been explored.

Another popular method ‘leaders’ use to avoid making decisions is constant consensus building. In this case, the leader turns the decision over to a group. He works back and forth from one team member to the other until those members are in agreement on a decision. The leader may try to explain this as delegating or as listening to his team. Unfortunately, this is simply his/her way of avoiding the responsibility of making the call.

Another method used to avoid decision making is to simply not decide. By putting off the decision, the leader hopes to kick the decision down the road until someone else makes it or the situation resolves itself.

First, some advice to leaders: Double-check yourself to be sure you aren’t accidentally using some of these techniques to avoid decision making. Some decisions are hard to make, but that’s why you are in the position you are in. You have been hired to make these difficult decisions, so go do it. I wrote a previous post that may help you here.

Now, for employees stuck in a position of having to deal with indecisive leaders, here is some advice for you:

  • Anticipate the need for data when presenting information to your boss. This is an important element of managing up, regardless of the type of boss you have, but particularly important when dealing with this type of boss. Know your stuff, have your numbers.
  • Seek buy-in from others involved in the decision-making. Sharing that other leaders are already on-board can be effective in helping your leader make the final call.
  • If your boss requires consensus, work with your co-workers ahead of time to be sure everyone is on the same page before the meeting. This is the same advice as above – simply a different group of people.
  • Don’t give up. If your boss is the type to put off decisions, just keep coming back. Try different ways of presenting the information. Sometimes a quick hallway conversation can be better than a formal meeting/presentation, or vice-versa. Often times leaders need to hear things several times before they actually hear it.
  • If all else fails, and it is absolutely terrible that it can come to this, get yourself a new boss. Life is short, and we all deserve happiness and fulfillment at work. Don’t hang around too long expecting something to change! Make your own tough decision and move on!

Good luck to you all!

As always, stay positive!!

Job Searching…Tips to Help You Through

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Tip #0.5: Eat More Chocolate Chip Cookies

Searching for a job is hard work. As it would happen, I am the queen of hard work. The tougher the challenge, the harder I work. Finding a new job after a layoff appears to be the most difficult challenge I have faced yet.

I wasted no time getting started. In other words, I panicked.

Tip #1: Don’t Panic. You will want to panic. Do your best not to.

The day I learned I was being laid off, I immediately posted an update on LinkedIn. I sent messages to a few recruiters I had come across in my time at my previous company, and reached out to a couple industry contacts. That afternoon I had heard from several contacts within my network and I was off and running (key word: running).

Tip #2: Walk, Don’t Run. This is a marathon for which you have not trained.

From there, the weeks have raced by in a blur of phone calls, interviews, and many, many emails. I have met wonderful people from industries across the spectrum. I have reconnected with old friends and have made several new friends.

What I have found is that people genuinely want to help. I cannot begin to express the gratitude I have for the people who have known me for a long time and have offered their support and assistance, and for the people who barely know me and still have gone out of their way to help me.

Tip #3: Ask For Help. People want to help you.

For five or six weeks now I have been running. Every single morning, I have pulled myself out of bed and gotten dressed for work. I often leave the house early in the morning and do not get home until early evening.

I had thought I would get to play the part of ‘stay at home mom’ for my kids. I thought I would bake cookies to be ready for them when they walked in the door, and would have a clean, shiny house I could finally invite my friends to visit. I would finally get all of my paperwork organized, my email box in control, and the laundry on a regular schedule.

Tip #4: Discard All Expectations of what life will be like while job searching.

This has decidedly not been the case. I have not yet baked any cookies, the laundry continues to pile up and my email – well, let’s just say that the unread count in my inbox has grown exponentially.

This past Monday I hit a wall. I no longer had a full week of meetings/interviews/phone calls scheduled. I was tired – exhausted, actually – and started to feel something like… lost.

Tip #5: Take Breaks. Take Breaths. See Tip #2.

I began to question what I was actually looking for. Meaningful work. That’s what I want. I want to be able to contribute in a meaningful way. I want to use the gifts and talents that I have to make the world a better place.

How do I find this in a job description? How do I express that in a resume, a phone call, an interview? What job title am I looking for? What industry do I consider? What person do I reach out to?

I wrote a post earlier this year cautioning us all not to put too much pressure on our jobs to provide us with our meaning in life. This, somehow, is hard to keep in mind when searching for a new job. This is a chance to start over, to try something new, to truly find my passion and my purpose. But do I really need to fit all of that in to my next job? Probably not.

Tip #6: Do Your Homework on Yourself. What do you need out of new job? That is what matters now.

Since hitting the wall this past Monday, I have been trying to take some time for myself. I finally made it to the gym. I got a massage, took myself out to lunch, and I spent several hours one day meandering around my city, going wherever the breeze took me. I only dressed for work two days this week.

I have asked the Universe to provide me with some answers. Apparently, she needs to get back to me on that.

In the meantime, I will be trying to balance things better. Instead of working around the clock, I will schedule time for job searching. I will also schedule time for family (I can’t wait to make those cookies), and will certainly schedule time for myself.

This is a unique time in my life. I have worked my entire life, whether in a job or in school (often both at the same time). It is no wonder that I am feeling lost with neither currently under way. I need to embrace this and make the most of it.

Tip #7: Celebrate Along The Way, no matter what it is you are feeling.

I have been working with a coach and in our last session she asked me to consider the question: What is powerful about being lost? I plan to spend some significant time considering this question. Perhaps this will be the topic of my next blog post. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

To all of you on a similar journey, I wish you the power to balance, the patience to wait for the right thing, and the resilience to make it to the other side.

As always, keep it positive!