I get asked (a lot) “what is the most important skill or quality for a leader?” My answer is always the same. Even after more than 25 years of observing and working with leaders, I can say with certainty that this one skill, practice, habit, behavior or quality (it is all of these) is the most important – I call it structural integrity for humans.
Think of structural integrity as a framework for how you live – like scaffolding when a building is being built. It holds you up and supports you while you live your life.
I call it structural integrity because it functions exactly the same way in the construction industry. If a building is built without structural integrity or has weak structural integrity, it is likely to collapse at some point, or at least have some significant damage over time.
This is also true of humans, we need structural integrity in our lives so we don’t “collapse”, metaphorically speaking. (I used to tell my kids when a pile of ‘bad’ things happened all at once, that their structural integrity was wobbly and they needed to reinforce it. I never knew for sure if that were true, but since it was probably true, I always said it. Funny thing though, when they started reinforcing their scaffolding, the pile of bad things either disappeared outright, or diminished greatly. Either way, they were always happier and felt more in control of their lives).
What are the foundations of this structural integrity for humans? Very simple, but not easy to live.
However, not easy DOES NOT mean it can’t be done, nor does it mean that even if failure happens more often than success that you should give it up. Structural integrity requires effort and practice. And the effort and practice are worth it. You will reap the benefits in your own experience of yourself, in your relationships with others, and in the outcomes you will be able to produce.
Structural integrity for humans is all about action. It’s about doing. It is about coordinating your actions with what you say (both what you say to yourself and what you say to others).
How do you get your actions to sync with your mouth? This is the “simple, but not easy” part.
- When you commit to something, do it. And do it when you promised you’d do it. “I’ll call you tomorrow”. Call them tomorrow. “I’ll be there no later than 10am”. Be there NO LATER than 10a. “I’m not eating candy for a month”. Don’t eat candy for a month.
- Don’t sacrifice or give good reasons for not doing what you know is right. There are so many times in life that we know what to do, know what the right thing is, but we just don’t do it. You know that moment when a piece of trash accidentally flies out of your bag and you know it happened and you just keep walking? GO PICK UP THE TRASH. You know it’s not right to leave your garbage everywhere. So don’t. Or when you know a colleague is stressed or overwhelmed and an offer from you would make a difference? Go make the offer. Or when you have a team member who really needs to talk to you, but you keep putting them off? Get them on your schedule. Stop putting them off. Most of the time, we know which is the right action to take. But often, we just don’t do what we know is right. DO WHAT IS RIGHT.
To develop the most important skill of leadership, start here. Do the things your mouth said (or you said in your head to yourself) when your mouth said you would do them, and, do what’s right. Even if nobody asked you to.
Structural integrity will change your life.