Leadership CaffeineSomeone asked me the other day, whether there was one quality above all others that stuck out as essential for success as a leader?

Without hesitating, I responded, “intestinal fortitude.”

And while the question is not dissimilar to one of those impossible to answer but fun to speculate about debates that run endlessly on sports talk shows (e.g. Who was better, Aaron or Ruth?), I’m taking sides on this one.

Aside from the issues that we all face as humans, including health challenges, personal loss and heartache, leading others rates a difficulty factor on par with brain surgery, rocket science and throwing a no-hitter in baseball. And while I suspect that the brain surgeons, rocket scientists and professional pitchers are either cancelling their RSS feeds or burning up the keyboards writing rebuttals that start out, “Dear Idiot,” consider the case for the extreme difficulty of leading and the need for intestinal fortitude:

  • Leading would be easy if it weren’t for the people. We are complex, emotional creatures, all driven by our often unspoken intentions, dreams or battles. We’re darned complex to guide, motivate, inspire and coach, and we don’t easily place our trust in those that we reference as leaders.
  • For those keeping score, the days of frustration always outnumber the days of satisfaction.
  • Accolades and hearty slaps on the back are uncommon responses to your best leadership efforts.  In reality, the best moments of a leader are often celebrated in silence.
  • Ambiguity, uncertainty and change are on the menu daily.  As a leader, you’ll leave your comfort zone far behind, and you quickly discover that someone moves your cheese almost every day.
  • On the worst days, you’ll stare in the mirror in the morning and wonder whether you’ve finally reached your level of incompetence.

Back to intestinal fortitude (IF)IF is what kicks you out of bed everyday, knocks down your demons of self doubt, scoffs at ambiguity and gives you the confidence to fight the good fight, serving, developing and guiding others. IF helps you deal with ethical dilemmas, tough decisions and the sticky spots along the way.  And finally, IF is what you draw upon to gain the courage and energy to persevere on what may often seem like a thankless task. It reminds you that this job has little to do with you and everything to do with the people around you.

6 Gut Check Questions to Test Your Leadership Intestinal Fortitude:

1. How much personal satisfaction do you gain from serving others? If your honest answer is, “not very much,” then you need to reset on your leadership ambitions.

2. Are you comfortable almost never being the center of attention? If you crave the limelight, this job’s not for you.

3. Do you prefer to drive home every night feeling like you accomplished something? Hey, this isn’t like building a house or cutting the lawn.  You may not see your accomplishments for years in some cases.

4. Want to wake up and know where your day will take you? Once again, if the answer is “yes,” you’ve got problems as a leader.

5. Do you prefer making decisions that make everyone happy? If yes, it’s likely that this job is not for you.  A leader’s skills are forged in the fires of tough decisions, not popular decisions.

6. Do you have the moral courage to stand tough and take the heat for your team during times of adversity?  Leaders are made during tough times and by taking the unpopular path on    difficult issues.  If you don’t like the idea of being a human shield, it’s time to dust off those individual contributor skills.

The Bottom Line for Now:

Don’t get me wrong.  The personal rewards from leading far outweigh the burdens.  Nonetheless, without Intestinal Fortitude, you won’t last long enough to realize what a remarkable experience it is to serve and guide others.

Did you know that Art serves up a Leadership Tip of the Day at Building Better Leaders?  It’s a small cup of daily leadership caffeine.  Visit the Building Better Leaders blog and subscribe.