Good leaders are not born, they are made.
You’ve probably heard this before, but how do people become leaders?
One of the most important traits that makes a good leader is our habits. Habits are the things we do consistently, without thinking about them. And over time, our habits can have a profound impact on our lives and our success.
If you’re looking to excel in the workplace, developing leadership habits is a great place to start. Keep reading to learn how to develop good habits, plus discover some common habits of good leaders.
What are Habits?
According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, “a habit is a routine or behavior that is performed regularly—and in many cases, automatically.”
Habits can be good or bad, and they can greatly influence our lives. Good habits can help us to achieve our goals, improve our health, and live more fulfilling lives. Bad habits, on the other hand, can sabotage our efforts and make it difficult to reach our full potential.
In the workplace, good habits can help leaders to be more effective. For example, a leader who has the habit of planning ahead is more likely to be productive and organized. A leader who has the habit of communicating clearly is more likely to be understood by our team members. And a leader who has the habit of recognizing others is more likely to build a positive and supportive work environment.
If you want to be a more effective leader, it’s important to develop good habits. By following the tips in this blog post, you can start to develop the habits that will help you to be more successful in your leadership role.
How to Develop Good Habits
In Atomic Habits, Clear breaks down habits into four simple steps:
Together, these steps create an infinite feedback loop. The more often all steps occur, the easier it is to repeat the behavior—good or bad. This is why it can be difficult to break bad habits, BUT you can use this information to form good habits.
Here’s a personal example of how I became more productive at work. Previously, whenever I received a new email notification, I stopped whatever I was doing to check my email.
- Cue: An email notification
- Craving: The desire to know the contents of the email
- Response: I stopped working to check my email
- Reward: I felt good about keeping a clean inbox
But the problem was that my email took away my concentration from work that was a higher priority.
In this situation, changing my habit was easy. I scheduled deliberate blocks of time to check my email. The rest of the day, I completely closed out of Outlook. This meant no more notifications, which eliminated the cue from my habit.
And I still feel good about keeping a clean inbox! I just limit myself to opening my inbox twice a day.
When trying to form a new habit, it’s helpful to break down the steps.
- Do you have a cue to do the habit?
- What craving do you feel (or want to feel) when prompted by the cue?
- What is your ideal response?
- Do you feel rewarded after doing that response?
By following this framework, you can develop good leadership habits.
7 Habits of Good Leaders
Your organization is filled with leaders. Whether you’re already a leader yourself, or you’re aspiring to a leadership position, you can learn from the leaders around you. While there are multiple ways to be a good leader, leaders also tend to share several of the same good habits.
These leadership habits can be learned and developed over time, and they can make a big difference in a leader’s effectiveness. Here’s a quick look at these habits:
- Lead By Example
- Plan the Night Before
- Start with the Hard Projects
- Learn Daily
- Communicate Clearly
- Recognize Others
- Take Time to Rest
Let’s look at each of these leadership habits in detail.
Lead By Example
You’ve heard it said a million times: Actions speak louder than words. That’s true for leaders too. Employees take cues from their leaders on everything from work ethic to workplace etiquette.
What you say matters. What you do matters more.
If you schedule meetings with an agenda, run meetings effectively, and follow-up with action items, you set expectations for your team members on time management and organization. They will learn to run better meetings based on your example.
If you constantly interrupt people, or speak poorly of upper management, you contribute to a negative culture that tolerates blatant disrespect. Your team members won’t learn office decorum, and they might disrespect you as well.
Leading by example means holding yourself to the same standards (or higher) as anyone else.
Look at the leaders in your workplace. What are they doing to model behavior, to manage change with those around them, and to get feedback to improve? What can you learn from your leaders? How can their example teach you about leadership?
Plan the Night Before
Another step I’ve taken to improve my productivity is planning out my day. At the end of each day, I spend just 10-15 minutes going over my schedule and my priorities for the next day. Then I block out my time—including breaks. This eliminates decision fatigue in the morning, so I can immediately get started with my day.
Leaders understand the importance of strategic planning. While it’s tempting to jump in and just get stuff done, that’s not the most effective course of action.
Slow down. Take time to plan. By planning out your day, you can prioritize what matters, and let go of distractions.
Start with the Hard Projects
Have you ever heard of the productivity tip to “eat that frog”? While the inspiration for this idea is erroneously attributed to Mark Twain, the advice is still sound.
The idea is that if you must eat a frog (do something hard), it’s best to do it first thing in the morning, because then the rest of your day will be relatively easy.
Leaders tackle our most important task first thing every day.
Good leaders are always learning. We read books, attend conferences, and take online courses. We are always looking for ways to improve our skills and knowledge.
Here are some ways to build the habit of daily learning:
- Listen to a podcast during your commute
- Watch an online course during lunch
- Block out 15-30 minutes at work to read
If you’re looking for a new learning opportunity, Compass offers multiple free workshops related to leadership and workplace culture.
Good leaders are able to communicate effectively with our team members, our superiors, and our customers. We are able to articulate our ideas clearly, and we are able to listen to feedback effectively.
Good communication is a skill that you develop through habits. Take the time to reread an email before you send it. Give your team members the opportunity to ask questions. Actively listen to others.
Each of these small habits build up, until you have good communication skills.
Good leaders take the time to recognize the contributions of our team members. We know that a little praise can go a long way.
How can you turn recognition into a good habit? Here are a few ideas:
- At the end of each meeting, thank everyone for attending.
- Whenever a team member does a good job, tell them.
- Schedule a regular cadence of one-on-one meetings with all team members. Provide feedback during these meetings.
As you develop the habit of recognizing others, you can also learn how to give effective praise. While a heartfelt “thank you” can go a long way, just a little extra thought and attention can really build up your team. Here are three steps to giving effective praise:
- Get specific. What did that person do, and why does it matter?
- Personalize the message. What does that person’s good work mean in the context of their life?
- Play it forward. If this kind of success continues, how can that affect your employee?
Steve Wasik elaborates on these steps in this video on LinkedIn.
Looking for even more advice? Discover other ways to reward and recognize employees.
Take Time to Rest
Leaders will experience burnout if we don’t take time to rest. And since leaders model the way for employees, employees might think they shouldn’t rest either.
Use your allotted paid time off (PTO). Enjoy your lunch break. Take short walks throughout the day. It’s okay to find moments during the day to relax at work.
Whenever possible, don’t take work home. Allow yourself to enjoy your leisure time.
Go to bed at a reasonable time.
With the habit of rest, your physical and mental health will be better. And a healthy leader is a good leader!
Which Habit Will You Learn?
Developing good habits is an important part of becoming a good leader. By following the tips in this blog post, you can start to develop the habits that will help you to be more effective in your leadership role.
If you’re looking to take your leadership skills to the next level and improve your team performance at the same time, sign up for a free workshop to maximize your team dynamic.