The right leadership habits lead to the right leadership practices. It is a law of life general.
There is a lot leaders are ‘told’ they should do in order to be effective leaders and the leadership ‘to do’ list becomes an endless range of activities that may or may not work. Smart leaders understand that ultimately good leadership practice is built on forging the right personal habits. Identify and build these habits and it seems the rest flows in a natural and seamless manner.
Here are four habits you should consider building into your daily leadership practice until they become an ingrained daily practice. They don’t require a lot of time but they do need to be intentional and given every opportunity to gain traction in your busy day. Doing them is entirely possible and the challenge is to do them for 20 consecutive workdays.
Habit One: Read
I am not talking about the newspaper or even an industry related journal – although that might be a start should you not be in the habit of reading. Smart leaders read and if you are too busy to spend 7-10 minutes every day reading – yes, only 7-10 minutes, then you are too busy! Find a worthwhile book on leadership, personal development or something that grabs (and you think will hold) your attention. Then over the next 20 days read for 7-10 minutes. Make notes, underline and highlight whether that be a hardcopy or kindle, but read thoughtfully. If what you are reading is boring or not for you toss it. Life is too short to read stuff that doesn’t add to our lives and there is plenty of worthwhile literature out there. So don’t waste your time reading for readings sake. Make it worth your while.
Habit Two: Think
Meg Wheatley suggests that ‘thinking is the place where all intelligent action starts’. She is right. Pausing to simply ‘think’ is perhaps one of the hardest of all leadership habits to cultivate. Of course you are thinking all the time and often when you shouldn’t be! What I am talking about here is the deliberate allocation to simply think. If you do this habit immediately after your reading (which is recommended) then you might want to keep handy a simple exercise book (or suitable app) where you can doodle, jot down thoughts, mind map or whatever works for you. Having read for 7 minutes spend just 5 minutes thinking about what it is you have read and the applications. Just five minutes is all that is needed at this stage. Practice different approaches until you find something that works for you.
A tip here is that where to do these two habits is important. Pick a place where you won’t be disturbed or interrupted.
Habit Three: Write
The writing is really expanding on what was started in the ‘thinking’ habit where you were encouraged to jot down ideas, thoughts and possible actions that came to mind. This now involves expanding on those concepts and the discipline of doing this – and finding a coherent way to do it, is important. The writing could take the form of a leadership journal that is both reflective and ideas orientated but the leadership habit of reflective writing is well documented. It is also a dated bit of wisdom with Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelis (who was ruler of the Empire from 161 -180) having been a habitual journal keeper. He even maintained the habit whilst directing his troops whilst encamped of the on the frontlines of the battles he fought. If it is true that ‘life has to be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards’ (Soren Kierkegaard), then keeping a reflective leadership journal makes good sense. It need not be a time consuming exercise and 5 minutes of journaling every day is enough to root the habit. Start today.
Habit Four: Learn
Determine to learn something – anything, new every day. It could be facts and figures, foreign words, a quote, a skill, a name, something about someone you work with every day – anything…but ensure you are intentionally building a learning mentality and habit. The simple test being that before go to sleep can you answer the question: ‘what is it I have learnt today?’ One would assume this happens and I guess were you to ask yourself that question you could always fudge the answer, but you will quickly realise just how easy it is to live each day not learning something of significance. I am currently seeing if I can learn to write competently with my non-writing hand, which in my case is my left-hand. Every day I spend 3 minutes writing a journal using my left hand. By doing it using a single exercise book I can see the progress and I have given myself 50 days before I will evaluate where I am at in the experiment. Smart leaders are constant learners and don’t assume that this is taking place. Be curious, ask questions and intentionally pursue learning…that in a way brings us right back to habit #1…read!
These are four leadership habits that if intentionally cultivated will doubtless yield massive dividends. To be a futurefit leader you will need to pursue worthwhile activities that ensure your leadership fitness for whatever it is that lies ahead. These four habits would be a good place to start. At a minimum they collectively won’t take more than 20-25 minutes a day: that might be the best return on investment you will ever make!