"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going."
- Jim Rohn, business philosopher
We are creatures of habit (a behaviour pattern), so the saying goes. It therefore follows that if we minimise the bad habits and maximise the good ones, we will have leadership, business and life licked! If only it were that simple.
The Importance of Habits
Planning plays a critical role in creating a desired vision and blueprint for success. Motivation pours fuel into the tank. Having the right set of competencies – skills and knowledge – is paramount too, but it’s habit that creates a winning routine that enables positive behaviours to be repeated over and over again.
Leadership, Habits and Humility: a Necessary Three-Way Marriage
A key trait to unlock change is having the humility to accept that a negative habit exists in the first instance. We are human beings after all – it’s part of our nature to be perfectly imperfect. I’m sure most people would be willing to say, “I’m not perfect”, but this isn’t real ownership. Admitting the specific behaviour and the cost to the business goes deeper and requires brevity, courage and humility – perhaps a greater benefit to the business than eye lasers.
Humility in Action
Marshall Goldsmith, an acclaimed leadership coach, regularly references his work with Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford. In 2013, Alan was named third on Fortune’s ‘World’s Greatest Leaders’ list. However, he had to work on his leadership style throughout his career at Ford – from telling staff how to do their job to becoming a facilitator of change. Marshall puts the turnaround down to Alan’s humility and lack of ego. Alan once told Marshall:
“Every day I remind myself that leadership is not about me. It is about the great people who are working with me.”
Do These Bad Habits Sound Familiar?
Exercise is often the first appointment we break under stress and in favour of work-related commitments. Getting back into an exercise regime or becoming more active tends to be a constant goal among leaders. However, endless evidence suggests exercise is important for both our physical and mental well-being and helps us to make better decisions and improve mental agility under pressure.
Procrastination occurs in the pursuit of perfection. An inability to get important things done due to a fear of the end result not being quite right. This is one I know very well and it especially raises its ugly head when I’m about to hit the ‘publish’ button of my latest blog post! I aim for ‘80% happy’ (or thereabouts) and focus on the intention over outcome – adding value, rather than writing a scholarly masterpiece.
The need to be right is prioritised over all other outcomes. Justifying one’s own importance or intelligence is placed ahead of the opportunity to collaborate, discover new information or ideas and is likely to damage relationships. This particular habit also shines a big bright light on one’s own ego, instead of shining the light on the team, something Mulally pinpoints as critical in effective leadership.
The Psychology of Behaviour Change
According to BJ Fogg, a psychologist and researcher at Stanford University who has studied behaviour change for more than 20 years, three elements must converge at the same moment for a behaviour to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger (a structure that prompts an action). Ding, ding, ding! A clear and simple formula.
Managing Habits: a 10-Point Plan
1. Change the mindset around negative habits. See them for what they are – sabotaging behaviours that are sabotaging your progress.
2. Notice the ‘inner voice’ that is supporting the bad habit (“it’s not a scholarly masterpiece!” or “you’re not good enough!”). The more you notice it, the quieter it will become.
3. Remember, you are always at choice. Don’t convince yourself that negative behaviour patterns are just ‘who I am’. You get to choose.
4. Start small. Set up a daily structure to keep you on track. It might be to spend 5 minutes at the start of each day writing your top 3 ‘must dos’ for the day that’ll mean success for you.
5. Create a routine. Creating a new habit is like building a muscle – it requires a regular workout. A structured routine containing daily actions will support the formation of a new habit.
6. Focus on the present. What can you do today? The past can’t be changed and the future has not yet been written. It’s what you do today that’ll have the biggest impact on future success.
7. Pair habits. BJ Fogg suggests pairing desired new habits with well-established old ones. For example, when you brush your teeth (established daily habit) do 10 squats (desired new habit).
8. Keep a record. Track your progress at the end of each day. Did you do it – Y/N? It’s hard to ignore failure!
9. Share your intentions. Your odds of breaking a habit or creating a new one greatly improves with accountability.
10. Celebrate success! Every little success should be celebrated. It helps to anchor the habit through a positive emotional response.
Next time you want to achieve a goal, refocus your attention on a routine that will turn new desired behaviours into anchored positive habits. A new habit could be the missing link in overcoming the latest challenge. A formula to consider…
Quality Leadership = Motivation + Ability + Trigger x Positive Habits
As a coach, my job isn’t to know more about running a company than you (that’s your job), but to hold a mirror up to behaviour patterns, which will raise awareness and insight around how they support or hinder your goals and leadership. What new habit could take your leadership to the next level?