Develop the Leader Habit

Master the Skills to Lead

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

 

Why Most Leadership Programs Fail

Why do most leadership development programs fail?

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.

 

“What cannot habit accomplish?” -Herman Melville

 

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

 

22 Core Skills of Successful Leaders

9 Habits of Trustworthiness

This is a guest post by John Blakey. His new book, The Trusted Executive: Nine Leadership Habits That Inspire Results, Relationships, and Reputation, is a must read for leaders who want to inspire trust and achieve results.

 

9 Habits of Trustworthiness

As a coach, I am interested in helping leaders be more effective rather than more knowledgeable. Sometimes gaining new knowledge is part of the formula that gets us from A to B, but it is rarely the full answer. As Einstein quipped, ‘In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not’. Consider how many great books you have read and how many excellent training courses you have attended. How many of them entertained you rather than changed you? If we wish to go beyond corporate entertainment, then we have to commit to the hard yards of executive practice. However, even more than this, we have first to believe that it is possible to change at all.

Trusted Executive JacketAll the CEOs I interviewed for my book, The Trusted Executive: Nine Leadership Habits That Inspire Results, Relationships, and Reputation, were asked the question, ‘How do you build trustworthiness?’ One of them replied, ‘I am not sure this is the right question because I don’t think you can build trustworthiness in people. You either have it or you don’t, and so we test for it when we recruit people into the business.’ I am sure other executive leaders would have a similar perspective. Can you really build integrity into someone or is it a fixed trait of character that defies further development? This argument reminds me of Churchill’s famous words about optimism: ‘I suppose I am an optimist; there seems little point in being anything else’. So my glib answer to those who believe that trustworthiness is a fixed character trait would be to say, ‘I suppose I believe that anyone can grow and change in profound ways; as a leader there seems little point in believing anything else.’

 

“It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” -Paul of Tarsus

 

Dr. Carole Dweck of Stanford University provides a more rigorous assessment of this question in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck has spent decades studying achievement and success in students. She has concluded that we have one of two mind-sets at any point in time: growth or fixed. Someone with a fixed mind-set believes that talents and traits are fixed and unchangeable. They believe that if someone is not good at something, there is no point in trying harder as their ability will not change. This mind-set gets in the way of learning, since challenges are seen as threatening. In contrast, people with a growth mind-set believe that abilities and talents are cultivated through effort. People with this attitude welcome a challenge and they create an inner resilience in the face of obstacles. Dr. Dweck concludes that, ‘the more we know that basic human abilities can be grown, the more it becomes a basic human right for all kids and all adults to live in environments that create that growth’.

Used by permission. Used by permission.

I assume a growth mind-set. This does not mean it is easy to build trustworthiness, in the same way that it is not easy to run a marathon, but it does mean it is possible. It also reveals that the key to success is not innate ability but superlative motivation. If you know someone who has given up smoking then you know that it is often hard to change a habit, but it is not impossible. New habits come from repetition and practice. And just as Covey had his seven habits of effectiveness, I will shamelessly follow his lead and propose the nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships and reputation: three habits of ability, three habits of integrity and three habits of benevolence.

A habit is an accumulation of choices. If you want to change a habit, then you have to start making different choices. To change a habit is an act of pure will, which is why it relies upon superlative motivation.

 

“If you want to change a habit, then start making different choices.” -John Blakey

 

9 Leadership habits that inspire results, relationships and reputation

7 Steps to Improve Your Character Habit

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Fred Kiel, the author of Return on Character: The Real Reasons Leaders and Their Companies Win.  His extensive research provides data that proves that character matters.  That same research also indicated that much of the character habits of the world’s best, virtuous leaders are formed in childhood.  Fred offers seven steps to improve your character habits.

Improving Character

It absolutely is possible to improve Return on Character (“ROC”) and raise your character reputation scores.  Your character habits are just that – habits.  And as such, they can be changed.  We all have some personal experience in changing our habits.  Sometimes it’s quite difficult, but it can be done.

We’ve isolated seven steps that work to improve your character habits:

1. Pop the Bubble

The first step you need to take to strengthen your character habits is to get real!  We all live in our own “bubble” – our version of ourselves.  Unfortunately, our view of ourselves is often wrong – we tend to believe our own press.  Everyone rates themselves as having a strong character – we see ourselves as principled people.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” -Confucius

 

2. Conduct a Cost-Benefit Analysis

Be brutally honest with yourself.  You have acquired your character habits because at some point in your life, they were very beneficial. But in all likelihood, some of the habits learned long ago are now more costly than beneficial.


“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” –Sigmund Freud

 

3. Find the Fuel

The only way you’ll go the next step in changing your character is if you believe that the cost of your current habit outweighs the benefit.  You must find the “fuel rod” that will energize you enough to acquire a new habit.

“What keeps me going is goals.” -Muhammad Ali

 

4. Now, Write it Down

The important thing now is to write down what you’ve decided from your cost-benefit analysis.  If you can’t write it down and provide a convincing argument about why you should change, you’re just living in la-la land.  You won’t change anything about your character habits.

“If you do not write it down, you have a wish, not a goal.” -Steve Maraboli

 

5. Focus Your Attention

3 Toxic Habits That Will Cripple Your Productivity

Thai Nguyen is a professional chef, international athlete, writer, and speaker. He is passionate about sparking personal revolutions in others.

More often than not, productivity is synonymous with success. The more quality content you are able to produce, the higher your conversion rate will be. Even talent is no match for productivity. The ever-entertaining Will Smith, with his numerous successes covering television, music, and cinema, was quick to respond when asked what his key to success was:

“I’ve never really viewed myself as talented, where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. When the other guy is sleeping, I’m working. When the other guy is eating, I’m working.”

It is a sentiment echoed by many great figures: If you just keep showing up and doing the work, results will come. When considering what stands against being productive, the usual suspects are procrastination, distraction, lack of self-discipline, and lack of willpower. However, there are three toxic habits that eat these culprits for breakfast:

1. Perfectionism

Striving to be perfect is not a bad thing. As long as you see perfection as the ideal and not the real. The reality is that everything can be improved. That is why you see new iPhones and iPads continually being churned out. That is why records are continually broken in every sport. Perfection is a unicorn that keeps running away.

 

Contentment is the enemy of improvement. -Thai Nguyen

 

Perfection cripples productivity when you spend far too much time working on the product rather than getting it out there. The inevitable question of, “What is the ideal amount of time?” is indeed a tricky one. The resolution is to be clear about your desired outcome as you are working on the project. What is it that you want your customers to experience once they are exposed to your product? If you are able to meet that level of expectation, then you have done your job. If you are able to exceed it, even better. But do not try to go beyond that and revolutionize the world. Not yet, anyway. That will happen when you least expect it.

2. Contentment

Being happy with your current state of being, your achievements and quality of relationships, is certainly a desirable goal—as long as it has a “best by” date on it. Contentment is the enemy of improvement. It is what keeps good from becoming great. You should always be seeking to set the bar higher and improving in all aspects of life. Snow is beautiful until you have to live with it daily.

 

Talent is no match for productivity. -Thai Nguyen

 

You are probably screaming, “What on earth is wrong with being happy with a situation?” That adage, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” may be ringing in your head right now. The reason contentment should only be a spring break is because change is inevitable. Everything is temporal. Change is the very fabric of the universe, and as much as you may strive to stay stationary, the tide will move you. We grow older, and we mature; technology continues to make groundbreaking changes; culture and society will ebb and flow. Thus, change and improvement, not contentment, goes hand in hand with personal development and productivity.

Break Your Routine

Photo by Phototropy on flickr.

Routine is the enemy of creativity.

Now, somewhere someone is arguing with that idea, saying that routine can enhance creativity. Routines can allow our brain to go on autopilot for the unimportant.

Sure, there is likely truth in that.

But, I think that occasional, even small changes can fire up our brain’s neurons and create new connections. We travel the same paths so often that we often miss the changes occurring on the route.

Before:

  1. My alarm goes off, and I follow the same pattern I have for years.
  2. I drive the same route to work.
  3. I follow a routine when I arrive at work.
  4. Each meeting follows a pre-set agenda and most are held in a conference room.
  5. I rush from task to task with little time left.
  6. The day ends, I head to the gym and start my routine workout.
  7. I rush home in time for dinner and helping with homework.
  8. I drive home and the evening is much the same as the one before.
  9. I watch the news and read a book.

The less routine, the more life. Amos Bronson Alcott

After:

  1. The alarm goes off, and I reverse my pattern. I get up fifteen minutes early, and go outside first. My thoughts are not about the daily “to do” list but instead focused on the nearby tree or the birds.