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What are Your Leadership Habits Hiding?

Habits are both good and bad: They are useful to help you keep things going, but they can also blind you to things that you need to do differently.

How conscious are you of your leadership habits? Do you even know if you have any? And if you are conscious of your leadership habits, do you review them regularly to determine which you should keep and which aren't serving you well any longer?

My dog, Big Karma has a lot of health issues and allergies, so he can't eat store-bought kibble or canned dog food. For the past three years, we've been cooking his food at home. Since I've had a lot of business trips this quarter, he has done the brunt of the cooking and packing. Last week, he said he'd like to find a less time-consuming way. After talking with some fresh made pet food companies, I finally asked if we could just do some good old process improvement, and prepare and pack in a different way. So yesterday, we did. And we reduced the preparation and packaging time from about three hours to about 50 minutes. Next week, I think we can make some further changes and get the time down to between 30 and 45 minutes from rice-making start, to dog food put away in the fridge!

Now, you may be wondering what this story has to do with leadership habits.

My husband is the cook in our family. And he is a great one! Over three years of preparing Big Karma's food, he's developed a number of habits. Habits are defined by Oxford Languages as "a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up." People can choose to create a habit such as consciously deciding to meditate every morning, or follow a healthier diet. Habits can also be formed unconsciously when you do the same thing over and over again in the same way. Like preparing and packaging dog food!

The thing about habits is that however they are formed, after a while, the reason for starting the habit in the first place is often forgotten, and since the behavior that has become habitual becomes largely unconscious (yep, that's why its a habit!) people go on with the same behavior even when circumstances have changed, the behavior doesn't serve them anymore, or it makes them unhappy (like prepping dog food for three hours on the weekend)!

Like anything else, people who are in leadership roles, both formal and informal), develop habits attached to their leadership. They may have decided to create a habit consciously (like putting into practice something they've learned at a training), or unconsciously: they simply did the same thing in the same way (started up their computer and checked their email first thing in the morning), and without noticing it became a habit.

Whether you are conscious of creating a habit, or you've just fallen into one from repeating the same behavior over and over again, habits have two sides:

  1. They can help you keep things going that are helpful, like healthy eating or that practice that you learned in training...

  2. They can blind you to things you should be doing differently because conditions have changed, you've changed or those behaviors aren't serving you or others well anymore.

This is especially important when it comes to Leadership Habits. Because, as a leader, your habitual actions, reactions, words and thoughts affect others.

People tend to do as leaders do, repeat the things that their leaders say and their speech patterns and they tend to think like their leaders think. Especially over time. Leaders who aren't conscious of their leadership habits may negatively influence others' leadership habits as well.

So, how can you tell if you have unconscious Leadership Habits that aren't serving you well anymore?

  1. Pay attention to your daily routine: Write down the things that you are doing and why you are doing them.

  2. Pay attention to your actions and reactions in situations: Note the situation, your response and the amount of time it took you to respond. Was your response immediate...or did you take time to think about it?

  3. Watch your words, tone of voice and body language: Are their phrases you say habitually in response to others? Do you find yourself on autopilot in responding?

  4. Ask others about what they "see" as your Leadership Habits are and how they feel about them. Note what surprises you! What do others notice about your Leadership Habits that you don't?

  5. Make and take time for introspection and reflection. Pretend you are someone else looking in on your leadership. What would that person say about your Leadership Habits? So often your day is so busy, you don't have time to reflect on on anything...which can lead to the development of many unconscious habits.

Once you've taken time to consciously examine your own habits, asked others for their input and taken time for introspection and reflection, you can take action!

  1. Compare your habits and their outcomes with your personal and organizational values. Are your Leadership Habits getting you closer to those values...or further away?

  2. Pay close attention to the behaviors, actions, reactions and words of others in your organization. Are they in alignment with the organizations values? Does your organization have a culture that you are proud of? Are people conscious of the ways that they are acting...and their habits?

  3. Note any discrepancies and underlying habits that are leading to those discrepancies. Write them down. Make them visible and conscious.

Then, make a decision and change your behaviors! Because consciously changing your behaviors (just like the changes my husband made in prepping Big Karma's food) will break unconscious habits that no longer serve your or others in the best way.

Becoming conscious of your unconscious Leadership Habits is the first step to creating new, better, kinder habits. The time to take it is now!


For practical ideas and ways to break unkind Leadership habits and to create kinder ones, see Chapters 4, 5 and 6 of The Kind Leader: A Practical Guide to Eliminating Fear, Creating Trust and Leading with Kindness.

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