The One Leadership Quality That You Need: Decision-Making

Pick Just One Leadership Quality? Decision Making.

If you type “leadership qualities” into Google, the articles that appear will talk about “18 Leadership Qualities to be a Great Leader” or “Research into Leadership: 12 Best Characteristics” and alike. You’ll read them and likely do these three things.

Words decision making in Scrabble tiles

• You’ll think, “A great leader certainly does have to be a lot of things.”

• As you read the lists, you’ll attempt to reconcile yourself against those lists. “I do that one. I definitely do that one. Oh, and that one <quickly skims past those three>. And that one, maybe, ish.”

• Then, you’ll do absolutely nothing after having read those lists. Yet, when you search for a reason why you haven’t, you’ll tell yourself, “I sort of am doing that,” make yourself feel a little better and then move on quickly.

We need to demand more of those who should, well, lead us and those who claim to know the leadership qualities of the greats, either through research or because they have done it. Yet, their sage-like wisdom boils down to a long list of stuff that corners us to take a position of “we are sort of doing it.”

It’s like asking us if we are living a life that is good for the planet and we defensively answer, “Yeah, I do recycle some things.” We need a way into this topic that doesn’t judge us or force us to answer in a certain way. We need a way that helps us to be the best version of ourselves without feeling negative, having to lie to ourselves or just ticking a box.

As leaders of people, we all want to think that we lead well. We just need a way into the topic that helps us easily assess ourselves as leaders and enables us to start making some small but important changes toward becoming better leaders.

Wooden figures following a red figures in leadership

In all those lists of qualities that a great leader should be, none mention one obvious, and yet key to being a great leader: to lead. People managers need to manage. Leaders need to lead. But many don’t. They avoid making decisions that lead the team because those are the decisions that have consequences. Those leaders are the ones to avoid. They’ll make no decisions and let the situation make the decision, and then they cannot be blamed.

A choice must be made about whether the team puts time into project A or B, supports client C or D or invests in strategic opportunity E or F. No amount of logic will typically help someone choose the best option, so it is a leader that has to put “their neck on the line.” Great leaders make choices and do it courageously, declaring that they have made a decision and then buying their team into their thinking, their vision and why they made that choice.

Gareth Southgate, the England Football Manager, has chosen to play a younger team because England has not won a significant trophy since 1966. The criticism he has come in for has been excessive. Yet, he has not wavered. He made his choice, declared it publically and has stuck by his decision. That is a true leader — making choices, leading.

One Leadership Quality – To Make Choices

Office cartoon on making decisions

We now know the leadership quality that is most important to be a great leader is to lead, to make choices. The next step is to understand how we do against that leadership quality. To enable this assessment, there are three questions that will help you to know whether you are leading or not.

1. Have you avoided making a leading decision in the past four weeks? Have no decision avoidance from now on.

2. Have you made a leading decision in the past four weeks? Good. Make more of them. Aim for one per week.

3. Would your team agree that you make brave leading decisions in the past four weeks? Yes, keep going. No, start making them.

A final thought on the one leadership quality that you need … We’ve all seen a post-apocalyptic film or TV series, like The Walking Dead. There are no guidelines, set of rules or absolute logic that survives such an environment. This is when true leaders come forward. They are prepared to choose left or right, to continue walking in the hope of finding a safer place for the group to sleep or to establish a watch routine during the night even though the group is exhausted.

Would you put yourself forward as the leader of that group because you could make the tough decisions, the hard choices? No? Then are you a leader?

Written by Darren A. Smith for Forbes.

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