Leadership that works is not a destination; it’s an ongoing journey, made up of many moments and choices over time. Each decision you make has an effect on your overall character. As you practice making better choices, those choices become habits, and those good habits have the power to transform your leadership. Consider that you ultimately become what you repeatedly do. For example, if you consistently choose to be kind, respectful, and hard-working – not in every single moment, but in more moments than not — then you will eventually become a kind, respectful, and hard-working leader. If this seems daunting, know that you do not have to be perfect. You just have to do a little better today than you did yesterday. By adding even a small amount of effort and discipline to tweaking the habits in your day-to-day routine, you can greatly alter the cumulative impact on your leadership legacy.
How can you get started on developing more effective leadership habits? Use our handy H.A.B.I.T checklist as a guide. Think of these 5 leadership behaviors as you navigate the daily interactions and challenges of your day. Whenever possible, simply choose, even in the smallest way, to behave in a way that is more aligned with these 5 positive traits that are the building blocks of a high-performance leadership habit: Humility, Authenticity, Bravery, Intention, Tenacity.
HUMILITY. The best leaders are well-anchored in their own expertise and competencies, but they are also acutely aware of what they don’t know. They don’t pretend to be the smartest person in the room; in fact, they purposefully hire people even smarter than they are and rely on their expertise to get tough jobs done. There is research to support the importance of humility to an effective leadership habit. Jim Collins, in his well-known book, “Good to Great”, in which he studied successful CEOs to unearth the secrets of their effectiveness, found that the most high-performing leaders had a combination of both “humility and fierce resolve.”
To develop the habit, in your next interaction, pay attention to your default response. Do you tend to try to take credit instead of giving it away; do you interject when you could have listened a little bit longer; do you shoot down ideas without good reason? Practice engaging with more humility by listening better, reading more, being more open-minded, and giving credit to others generously. Rely on others’ expertise and thank them graciously.
AUTHENTICITY. Leadership is an inside-out craft. You can’t hope to deliver transformative results externally without being firmly rooted in who you are and what you believe internally. Authenticity is important for guiding your leadership decisions and ensuring you behave in a way that is true to yourself. But it’s also crucial for 21st century leadership because people are paying close attention to what you do and say — and you’re probably not a very good faker (most people aren’t). If you speak disingenuously, people can tell, and they won’t be likely to believe in your leadership or to work hard to honor your agenda. What’s more, authenticity is essential for building trust, which is the most important competency for modern leaders (that’s why it’s at the center of our high-impact leadership model, the ConantLeadership Flywheel).
To build the authenticity habit, practice declaring yourself by telling people exactly who you are, what you believe, and how you intend to lead. Follow that up by doing exactly what you say and doing it well. Honor your word. Make room in your calendar for what you say is important. Show up in each moment in a way that is aligned with your code. You can also learn more about the idea of authentic leadership taking Bill George’s helpful authentic leadership self-assessment.
BRAVERY. Leadership isn’t easy. There are going to be times when you’ll have to make tough decisions that affect people’s lives. There will be moments when you’re not sure how to engage thoughtfully or when you won’t know what to say, or when you will second-guess a call you’ve made. But, no matter the challenge, people are counting on you as the leader. They need you at your best. To show up for them in the right way, in each moment, you’re going to have to be brave. Luckily, bravery, like any other virtue can be practiced. The more you practice leaning in, no matter how daunting it can be, the easier it will get, and the more meaningfully you’ll be able to respond to problems with agility and skill.
To practice bravery, in your next few interactions, notice when you’re shying away from saying what you really think, or avoiding giving some tough feedback. Have the conversation you don’t want to have, ask the question you’re apprehensive about asking. Practicing bravery doesn’t have to refer only to things that seem negative. Push yourself out of your comfort zone with giving praise, too. Maybe it feels awkward to you to express gratitude, or to give somebody a compliment they richly deserve. Force yourself to do it anyway. Fear can show up in different ways for different leaders. The best way to practice bravery is to learn to notice what you’re avoiding and choose to fully embrace and confront that very thing. Try it in your very next conversation.
INTENTION. For a long time, leaders could get away with what we call “seat-of-the-pants” leadership. But the information age has ushered in an unprecedented era of complexity and dysfunction. Times have changed. Leaders can’t haphazardly hop from one fire drill to the next anymore; or, they can, but they won’t be able to deliver high performance – at least not for the long run. At ConantLeadership, we champion an intentional approach to leadership. This means adopting a mastery model in which you treat leadership as a craft: honed with intention, practiced mindfully, and improved constantly.
To learn the intention habit, try shifting your mindset from being reactive to proactive. Reactive leaders wait for things to happen to them, and as the challenges build and wash over them, they flail and flounder, desperately trying to keep their heads above water. Proactive leaders approach their leadership work with discipline and intention; they take time to reflect on the kind of leader they want to be and the types of tactics they can use to bring their leadership vision to life. They practice their craft deliberately and treat interruptions as opportunities. Because they consider the daily work of leadership to be one perpetual preparation for adversity, when adversity inevitably does rear its head, they are well-equipped to dive in and leverage their expertise and experience to navigate the situation effectively.
To better practice the intention habit, get better oriented in the proactive mindset by first taking the time to reflect on the five essential questions of leadership. Then test your readiness with our character and competence checklists. Finally, you can discover a framework for approaching all of your interactions with intention in Doug’s book, co-authored with Mette Norgaard, TouchPoints.
Tenacity. This final essential leadership trait holds the key to experiencing success with the other four. Sure, you can practice with intention, engage with humility, be anchored in authenticity, and bravely stare down the scariest of circumstances, but you won’t achieve greatness without the fortitude to keep going no matter what. Tenacity, or “fierce resolve” as Jim Collins calls it, is the jewel in the crown of effective leadership. In fact, as Professor Angela Duckworth finds in her book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”, tenacity is even more important than talent and luck in predicting success. Frankly, you can have astounding levels of innate talent, but if you aren’t able to persist when the going gets tough, you’re not going to get very far.
Fittingly, we’ve found that the best way to develop tenacity – which is the key to success in all areas of our H.A.B.I.T system – is also through a commitment to cultivating the other four traits in H.A.B.I.T. First, you have to humbly acknowledge you have room to grow in this space, then authentically connect with your purpose and passion, which will provide energy and inspiration during rough patches — then practice bravery so you can call upon your courage reserves when you want to give up, and, of course, continually set and re-calibrate your intention so that you always have a worthy goal to keep you going.
Overall, remember that habits are formed by practice and repetition — by simply making better choices more often. Not all of the time, but most of the time. With these five H.A.B.I.Ts in mind, every day holds an opportunity to make a better choice than you did yesterday, to show up a little more completely than you did before. Over time, the power of your habits is likely to surprise you as your leadership effectiveness grows and grows.