The #1 Quality in a Professional

Talent, no.  Education, definitely not.  Experience, nope.  Creativity, sorry.  Integrity and leadership, very important but not it.  All those qualities and many others I didn’t name are wonderful and certainly aspirational for all professionals, but they aren’t #1.

The most important quality in a professional today is availability.

Availability is the #1 quality in a professional today because without it none of the other attributes can be put to use.  You can’t lead if you’re not available to your employees, partners or customers.  Education and experience are useless without it.  Integrity and decency can’t be demonstrated when one is isolated from others.

Athletes and coaches understand this better than anyone.  It doesn’t matter how good any athlete is, nobody wins from the bench.  Every sports fan has experienced the maddening frustration of seeing their team trade or sign a superstar only to see that player spend more time on the sidelines then the field.  It’s especially galling because athletes have to be available to perform so infrequently compared to business professionals.

The importance of availability is so obvious, yet it probably is the most under-appreciated and taken-for-granted quality in business.  This is easy enough to prove.  Search Amazon for books on leadership.  You could read every waking hour for the rest of your life and not get through all of them, not by a long shot.  The ratio of books on leadership, creativity and integrity compared to availability is staggering.

The controversial filmmaker Woody Allen once said that 80% of life is showing up.  His quip touches on this concept, but availability is much more than just showing up.  One can show up and not truly be available.  To be available is to be fully present and ready to engage.  To show up is to hear, to be available is to actively listen.  All of us have experienced the difference of dealing with bosses or colleagues who have merely shown up for a meeting versus those who are truly available.

The changes in how many of us work due to the pandemic are further highlighting the importance of availability.  I think we’ve seen how it’s possible to be available in remote situations.  It works better than expected.  Having said that I believe the key to sustaining an “available culture” in media and marketing requires some level of shared, physical space. 

I think this is a critical lesson especially for younger people aspiring to grow into leadership positions.  Making yourself available professionally necessitates sacrificing a level of availability in one’s personal life.  The demands for availability on leaders are greater.  I’m not suggesting in any way that work should come before family.  What I am saying is humans can only be available in one place at one time.  The scales tip as you grow, requiring sacrifices to recalibrate in either direction, work and home.  There is no one right path, each of us must choose the right balance of availability with a clear view of the implications.

All of us must continue to relentlessly work on growing our skill sets.  Your career will be dead in the water if you don’t.  Just remember, in the end it won’t mean anything if we overlook availability, the quality that makes everything else possible.

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