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

Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow

Mastering Leadership Concepts

Learning how to lead. It’s the focus of many lectures, articles, blog posts, and books. Joshua Spodek prefers the active to the passive, teaching with exercises designed to master leadership concepts.

He recently wrote a book titled Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow that takes this teaching approach. His background includes a mix of academic and corporate experience, allowing his coaching methods to incorporate the best of both. I recently spoke with him about his new book and his approach to leadership.

 

“What holds people back isn’t not knowing what skills to have but how to get them and use them effectively.” -Joshua Spodek

 

What Holds People Back

You bristle at the question of what qualities make someone a leader. Why?

Every book and resource lists qualities of effective leadership: integrity, self-awareness, resilience, empathy, listening skills, and so on. Popular terms now include grit and hustle.

Almost everyone knows what qualities make leaders effective. What holds people back isn’t not knowing what skills to have but how to get them and use them effectively. The techniques of nearly every book, video, MOOC, and every other resource are to teach people intellectually what they need.

But intellectually knowing that self-awareness is important doesn’t increase yours. I know the principles of playing piano. But I haven’t practiced, so I can’t play. Those least self-aware know least what to do about it, despite needing it most. The same goes for any social or emotional leadership quality.

You can’t lecture someone into integrity. No amount of reading will develop grit.

To develop social and emotional skills, you need to take on social and emotional challenges. Lectures, case studies, biography, and psychology papers may be intellectually challenging, but they are socially and emotionally passive and therefore ineffective at teaching social and emotional skills.

 

“There is no glory in practice, but without practice there is no glory.” -Unknown

 

Learn How to Lead

Is that what you mean when you say that business school taught you about leadership but not how to lead?

Exactly. Business school taught me principles but gave me little practice using them. Discussing a case study of someone else’s life will teach you something. I’m not saying lectures and case studies are worthless, but they can’t substitute for facing personal challenges.

After graduation, I learned leadership skills in practice, but I doubt it was any faster than had I not learned the principles.

Going to a top-5 school didn’t help. The more elite the school, the more the professors got there through publishing or perishing, not facing social and emotional challenges.

 

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” -Vince Lombardi

 

So what’s the alternative? Skipping school?

I struggled with that question, especially after noticing how many great leaders dropped out or were kicked out of school: Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Sean Combs, Michael Dell, Elon Musk, … the list goes on.

leadrshpstepbystepI wondered: did school hurt?

Two observations resolved the situation for me: How you learn is as important as what you learn.

The first was seeing how many top actors had tremendous emotional and social skills, coming off as tremendously genuine and authentic, yet dropped out of school, often high school. I learned that they didn’t stop learning. They switched to a different style of learning.

The other was connecting with the project-based learning and teaching community. I found that their students developed leadership skills that MBAs would dream of, but without taking leadership classes.

 

How does that play out in practice?

I learned that experiential, active learning is more effective for fields like leadership that are active, social, emotional, expressive, and performance-based. Plenty of fields are like that besides leadership and acting: playing musical instruments, athletics, dance, singing, improv, the military.

In all of them we teach through practice and rehearsal. When you master the basics, you move to intermediate skills. When you master them, you move to advanced.

Only with leadership do we start with theory. Compare the quality of athletes and musicians our nation creates with the quality of our leaders, or rather people with authority.

That’s why so many great leaders emerge from sports, acting, the military, and places outside academia. Look at your page on leadership insights, http://www.skipprichard.com/leadership-insights: the first people I see are baseball player R. A. Dickey, athlete/actor Chuck Norris, and basketball player Bill Bradley.

 

Try a New Approach

Can you clarify how you teach if not traditionally?

I teach and coach by giving students and clients an integrated, comprehensive progression of exercises starting with basics and leading, with no big anxiety-causing jumps, to skills so useful and advanced that most seasoned leaders would learn from them.

The exercises have you do things with people you know on projects you care about, so you face social and emotional challenges, but in safe contexts, so you don’t risk your job to develop the skills. It’s like practicing piano alone, then doing small recitals, and so on to get to Carnegie Hall.spodek

My exercises are like scales in piano or footwork in dance. Basics are valuable at every level. Look at the top seeds at Wimbledon before finals. They practice their ground strokes. LeBron still practices layups and jump shots.

I call how I teach Method Learning, after Method Acting, which is what we call the style of learning and practice for acting, and it produces Method Leaders. It’s not just acting. All the fields I listed above use the same technique.

You develop greatness, genuineness, and authenticity the same in leadership as in any of these other fields: Practice, practice, practice!

My book has stop signs after each exercise description saying, “Put the book down. Go practice. Reading about lifting weights doesn’t make you strong.”

 

“Reading about lifting weights doesn’t make you strong.”

 

Then what’s the role of a teacher or coach for a leader?

7 Ways to Build Self-Confidence

 

Stand Out with Self-Confidence

Dr. Ivan Joseph is the Athletic Director and head soccer coach at Ryerson University. When parents approach him, they often share attributes about their child to impress him. Dr. Joseph is looking for a specific skill above all others. That skill is self-confidence. Most of us think this is a trait, something you’re born with. This coach believes it is a skill and can be developed.

 

“No one will believe in you, unless you do.” –Dr. Ivan Joseph

 

7 Ways to Build Self-Confidence

Self-confidence can be built when you consistently:

  1. Do not accept failure.
  2. Practice. Practice.
  3. Do not accept no.
  4. Master your self-talk.
  5. Remove people who tear you down.
  6. Write a self-confidence letter to yourself about your accomplishments.
  7. Repeat positive affirmations throughout the day.

He notes that self-confident people interpret feedback the way they want to because, “No one will believe in you unless you do.”

So many of us think that, when we hit a certain age, we can ignore the skill of self-confidence. What I have seen is that it’s a vitally important skill that can be developed at any stage of your career. No one wants arrogance, but we are all attracted to confidence.

 

“Get away from the people who tear you down.” –Dr. Ivan Joseph

 

Are you feeling unworthy? Is your internal voice speaking fear and doubt? Are voices from the past telling you that you can’t do it?

Then try Dr. Joseph’s steps above and increase your self-confidence this week.

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“Put yourself in a situation where you say, I’ve done this a thousand times.” –Dr. Ivan Joseph

 

“Always act like you’re wearing an invisible crown.” –Unknown

 

“The most beautiful thing you can wear is confidence.” –Blake Lively

 

“What could we accomplish if we knew we could not fail?” –Eleanor Roosevelt

 

“If you do not believe you can do it then you have no chance at all.” –Arsene Wenger

 

To Speak Fearlessly, Take Yourself Out of the Equation

Gary Genard, PhD, is an actor, communications professor, and speech coach, as well as author of Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety. Build Your Confidence. Change Your Life..  Gary helps people from all walks of life cope with speech anxiety and stage fright.

We all want to speak fearlessly and with impact.  Influential public speaking is as important today as it’s ever been, despite the digital age.  Personal appearances matter.  Give a great speech and you might just change the world.

So you should try to be excellent, right?

Actually, you should try to be yourself.  There’s a reason you’re the one giving the presentation, usually because of your knowledge and experience.

So how do you get off the merry-go-round of self-regard and forget yourself while embodying your vital message? Here are three ways to do so.

 

Perform an Audience Analysis

Leaders’ egos sometimes set them up for failure as speakers.  That’s especially true if they think, “I know this stuff, so I’ll just get up there and talk about it.”

That’s a speech guaranteed to be shapeless and not very engaging.  Speeches are strategic activities, after all, and need to be thought out and constructed with care.  Your best guide for doing that successfully is an audience analysis.

Ask yourself these questions: What do I need to tell my listeners that they don’t already know? How do they prefer to receive information?  Is there an emotional climate here that I should know about?  What will their objections be to my argument?  And what action do I want them to take?  Put yourself in the world of your listeners, and it will be far easier to reach and move them.

 

Speaking Tip: Put yourself in the world of your listeners.

 

Prepare Less, Practice More

Let’s face it: Most of us are content junkies when it comes to speeches and presentations.  We’re convinced that if we load enough information into the laps of our listeners, they’ll respond the way we want them to.

This type of thinking ignores reality!  If our content could live on its own, we wouldn’t even need to be present—we could just send the information along and say, “Read this. You’ll have all the data you need.”  The truth is, however, audiences need us, as speakers, to put it all into context and, most important, to tell them why it matters to them.

So instead of gathering more and more content like a dung beetle, practice how you’re going to engage your listeners and establish rapport.  You’ll be the speaker who knows how to perform a speech.  That’s the one they’ll listen to.

 

Speaking Tip: Practice how you’re going to establish rapport.

 

Try Your Best to Disappear