What is THE Most Important Leadership Skill?
I was asked this question the other day by one of my clients on the Leaders Launchpad program (coaching and training for quiet leaders). And it’s a really good question.
You see, there are a number of critical skills for a leader to have to be successful in their role. And all of them are important, but there is one that is arguably the most important. Certainly, without this skill, you will never be successful as a leader, and will likely end up overwhelmed, burnt out and frustrated.
It isn’t Vision. Though of course without a clear vision, it is hard to lead people towards the goal. But you can still lead them. And it isn’t empathy. Without empathy, it is difficult to create lasting relationships of trust with the team. But it isn’t impossible to lead (short term) without this critical skill.
Communication skills, decisiveness, problem-solving – they are all critical for a leader.
You might think integrity is the one key skill you must have as a leader. And whilst I might agree with you, I think you would accept that there have been successful (at least in the short term) leaders in the past who have led massive amounts of people, with little or no integrity (or at least what you and I would deem integrity to be).
So What Is This Key Skill?
No, the one key skill without which you cannot succeed as a leader – is the ability to say NO.
Now I’m not talking about being a ‘hard arse’, aggressive or scary leader. But that’s the problem I see with many quiet leaders. They think that saying NO will mean they have to BE that scary person. That people won’t like them if they say no, or they will lose relationships.
I would argue there are many ‘graceful’ ways of saying NO that can save face for you, and the person you are saying NO to. But it is critical that you learn that even if you are saying YES all the time, you are also and already, saying NO.
When you say YES to working late, covering your boss’s back by doing extra work, or taking back a project from one of your team, to help them out – you are saying NO to something. Maybe it is time with your family. Perhaps it is time for you. Possibly you are putting back your own project that you planned to have finished.
It’s important to realise you are already saying NO. But are you saying NO to the right things?
What Can You Say No To?
As a Leader, you must focus your energy on the things that only you can do. These are the key tasks. Strategic thinking and decision making, relationship building, coaching, creating the vision, the values and the standards in the team.
When you don’t have the right boundaries, or any boundaries, and say yes to everything everyone asks of you, things will only go one way. Downhill. People may like you, but they may not respect you – and if they don’t then you can’t lead them.
So, here’s an idea.
Make a list of everything you said yes to in the last week and everything you said no to. And that includes things you said NO to by default because you didn’t have time – all the things you said yes to had to be finished first. Things like watching the latest episode of (fill in the black) with your children or your partner. Eating dinner together. Going for a walk.
Now look at the list and decide – are you saying YES to the right things, and to the right AMOUNT of things? If you are – that’s great. As long as it is on purpose and FOR a purpose.
But the chances are there are things on that list that should be delegated, outsourced, put in the bin, or pushed back to whoever tried to dump them on you.
If you have difficulty saying NO – I totally get it. It can be scary, or at least uncomfortable. But long term, the effect of not saying NO when you should, will only get worse. If people know you as someone who generally says yes, you will find more and more landing on your plate.
The respect from others for your time, and the importance of your role, will diminish. Your time to do the important stuff in your own job will be less or will be pushed back into your personal time. You will feel frustrated, overwhelmed and resentful and never have the time to be the amazing leader that you were born to be!
It is the most critical skill you can learn as a leader, and the quicker you develop it, the better, more productive and more enjoyable being a leader will be for you – and for everyone around you!
If you need any help with identifying whether you are saying yes to the right things, or in helping develop Win:Win strategies for saying NO, then I have just opened up spaces on my next Leaders Launchpad cohort. Please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me / message me on LinkedIn.
For now – just try it this week. Say NO to something you shouldn’t be doing. And see how amazing it feels.