A few summers ago, I watched a father coaxing his daughter to jump into the pool. It brought back memories of me doing the same thing with my daughter years before.
She was adamantly refusing to leap. He was frustrated. And then something happened. He sweetened the offer with a promise of a grape popsicle.
She was in the water before I even knew what happened.
That little incentive was a nudge. Motivation at its best.
I first became aware of nudge theory from the book, Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The authors highlighted how we think and make choices. Others had written about it previously, most notably James Wilk before 1995.
Since then, I am more conscious looking for how others are trying to influence my behavior. I also use nudges to help me meet my own goals. Putting healthy food within reach and making it harder to reach unhealthy snacks falls in this category.
We generally don’t think of leadership as a habit, but it’s time that we do. How we get things done at work, and how we manage people, is the result of habits – and those habits can be purposefully changed.
Martin Lanik is an organizational psychologist and the CEO of Pinsight®, a global leadership software-as-service company known for its disruptive HR technology. His new book, THE LEADER HABIT: Master the Skills You Need to Lead in Just Minutes a Day, shares the science behind how people develop habits and shows you how to develop key leadership skills through simple, daily exercises.
“Any leadership skill starts as a weakness.” -Martin Lanik
There are two main reasons why most leadership development programs fail. First, they rely mainly on classroom training and workshops that focus on acquisition of knowledge. Not only do we forget 85% of what we learn within one week, but knowledge also doesn’t equal skill. Knowledge doesn’t make us better at actually doing things. One of the examples I use in THE LEADER HABIT comes from music education: You can take classes on proper piano-playing techniques and watch YouTube videos, but that won’t make you a concert pianist. You must actually touch the keyboard and practice every day. But even more importantly, traditional leadership development fails to take into account the overwhelming influence that habits have on our daily behavior. It assumes that we rationally decide how we behave at work and in life. But research suggests that almost half of our everyday behavior is actually unconscious and automatic. No amount of classroom instruction alone can build effective leadership habits.
Tell us more about the latest science on learning and the development of the Leader Habit Formula.
Leadership, at its core, is a set of habits. How we interact with coworkers, customers, how we answer the phone, make decisions, plan and delegate work, or empower our employees are all to some degree influenced by habits. Positive habits make us better leaders, while negative habits hinder our performance. In the research we did for THE LEADER HABIT and for our online leadership training platform, we identified the 22 core leadership skills and the underlying micro-behaviors that effective leaders possess. By associating each micro-behavior with a natural cue and then deliberately practicing this pairing every day for 66 days, anyone can turn these effective leadership behaviors into habits. Once the new habits take root, people perform these effective leadership behaviors automatically, without having to rely on reminders, or even thinking about them. They just happen as seamlessly as making your bed in the morning.
“Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” -Vince Lombardi
What are some ways to incorporate this science into today’s training programs?
Training professionals should think about what happens after the class or workshop. What will happen with the concepts? How can you help learners turn these concepts into habits, so that they stick? The Leader Habit Formula tells us to distill the main concepts into specific actions or thoughts, associate them with a cue, and then ask learners to practice the pairing once per day for 66 days. For example, if you are teaching leaders how to delegate better, distill the knowledge about effective delegation into one actionable behavior. For example, we found that effective leaders tell employees what to do but not how to do it when they delegate projects and tasks (otherwise it’s micromanagement). Then associate the action with a specific cue, such as when the learner decides to delegate a project or task. And there you have a Leader Habit exercise that anyone can practice: After deciding to delegate a project or task, describe what needs to be accomplished but let the employee figure out how to do it. If the learners practice this exercise for 66 days, they form a new habit and become better at delegating. It’s that simple.
“Habit is stronger than reason.” -George Santayana
You walk into class and take your seat in a large lecture hall. It’s only the second week of law school and your senses remain on heightened alert. You’ve been warned about this particular class. The professor is known as tough. He sees his role as weeding out the students who are smart but cannot make it in the courtroom. Fail his class and you’re out.
Perhaps even more importantly, he runs the class like a courtroom. He will question you as if you were an attorney fighting for your client’s life. You watched what he did to one student in the last class, reducing the student to an emotional mess.
You’re determined not to show weakness. You’ve prepared and studied like never before.
Whether you want to motivate yourself or others, there are motivators at the core of every action. Knowing what is driving you and others is critically important.
Recently, I saw Greg McEvilly’s talk on motivation. Greg suggests that fear and love are the twin drivers of most actions. Greg is the CEO of KAMMOK, a company that sells outdoor equipment specializing in hammocks. In graduate school, he began to ask questions about motivation and behavior. Why is it that people behave the way they do? Even more important, Greg studied his own actions and thought about the definition of the words love and fear.
It’s a handbook of sorts, a reference book, filled with clever phrases and questions all designed to help you in conflict situations.
After reading it, I decided to put it to use immediately. I read a few of the phrases before attending most of my meetings. What I found was that I was asking better questions and was a more focused listener.
I recently asked Barbara more about her work.
“Knowing when to fight is just as important as how.” –Terry Goodkind
Practice, practice, practice! Many of us are uncomfortable with conflict to the point where we not just shy away from it—we run from it and give in rather than dealing with it. It takes courage and practice to have conflict muscle, but we also want people to know that not all conflict is “bad.” Having differences of opinion can spur creativity and positive change in organizations and personal relationships.
Talk about the power of listening.
Most of us think we’re really good listeners, but what we really do is, while the other person is talking, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say when they stop speaking. That’s not listening. Listening is putting your own thoughts aside to focus on the words being said but also observing body language and facial expressions to really get what the person is saying. Our ever-increasing virtual world makes listening even more difficult, so whenever possible, have difficult conversations face to face. But if you can’t be in the same place, use Facetime or Skype so least you can see each other. A good listener uses techniques like paraphrasing back what they heard to ensure both people are on the same wave length. Listening takes practice—just like any other communication form. We spend a lot time learning how to speak to be understood or how to write well but not much time learning how to listen.
“If I could solve all the problems myself, I would.” –Thomas Edison
This is a guest post by friend, executive and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor. Follow him on Twitter.
How to Kill Trust
Trust—so hard to gain, yet so easy to lose! Trust is an important part of any relationship, but it is the foundation for successful leadership. Without trust, leadership is simply hollow. There has been a lot written about the importance of trust and how to build trust with others. However, what many leaders do not realize is that trust is often undermined, or even lost, through simple behaviors. After paying so much attention to ways to gain trust, it is often lost inadvertently.
There are many ways that a leader can kill trust. Most are behaviors or actions and not overt statements. It is rare that a leader simply states, “I do not trust you” to someone. Yet, it is quite common that a leader will kill trust with one or more of the following behaviors.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” –Warren Buffett
Delegate tasks, not problems: When delegating, provide a strict framework and task list while telling them exactly what needs to be done and how to do it. By not providing others with the opportunity to help solve a problem or shape an initiative, it sends a message that they are not trusted and do not have the confidence of the leader.
Leadership Tip: Delegate the problem and let the team shape the initiative.
Micromanage: Constantly ask for updates, status and progress while dictating more about how to do the task. React strongly if there is any issue or problem. Second-guess any decisions or actions during the project. Constantly ask if they remembered to do something or if they are working on something. If something needs to be corrected, say, “I’ll take care of that” or have some else do it. By not demonstrating any confidence in a team member to complete an assignment, trust will be damaged.
“The ability to influence a leader is at the heart of feeling trusted.” –Bruce Rhoades
Never ask their opinion: Do not ask for input on an assignment; just dictate what to do. Discount what team members are saying, especially while they are talking. Require more justification with greater detail than expected of others – especially in public. Do not allow them to influence you. The ability to influence a leader is at the heart of feeling trusted. When influence is denied, trust is eroded.
Criticize in public: Point out mistakes and/or belittle others in public. Constantly point out mistakes and never tell them what they are doing right. Bring up past mistakes often. Public criticism not only belittles the team member, but it makes the leader look small-minded. Others on the team will also begin to wonder if the leader can be trusted.