November 5, 2018
Experts Corner

Essential habits of good leadership

Stephen C. Wakeen

Stephen Covey's landmark book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," emphasizes the habits of personal vision, empathic communication and creative cooperation, among other things.

Other habits not covered by Covey deal with external factors, such as exercising disciplined strategy. Still, other habits focus on employees, such as encouraging dignity in the workplace (read Dr. Donna Hicks' excellent new book, "Leading With Dignity").

In my practice, I see all kinds of leaders with different habits, both good and bad, but the most effective leaders all share common traits.

Here are five essential habits that breed the best leaders:

The habit of belief

Studies by IBM (in 2010, 2012 and 2014) found that most leaders do not feel prepared for the complex world in which they are leading. Many CEOs openly wondered if they were "in over their heads." But they press on.

Successful leaders allow a strong belief to carry them, even when they cannot predict the future. Belief can be contagious, too.

The habit of authenticity

Effective leaders value authenticity. They are courageous, but realistic. Leaders must answer to their boards, telling truth to power — and to their executive teams.

If the ship is headed in the wrong direction, it is the CEO who must break the news. There is a flip side: CEOs value the truth from their employees. An authentic leader is prepared to hear what he/she does not necessarily want to hear. On the other hand, if you find it forbidden to speak respectfully but frankly, then you may have a culture challenge.

The habit of empowerment

Great quarterbacks lead their receivers. While the quarterback gets most of the credit, he's actually showing off his team. The best leaders let the team score the touchdowns. They encourage it.

When leaders nurture the power of the team's talents, ideas multiply. People are engaged. Results are better.

While a leader may direct the play, he/she celebrates the team when it is successful.

The habit of over-communicating

It is often said that the two keys to leadership are relationship-building and communication. While building relationships seems obvious, communication is less so. This is because leaders can fail to recognize the importance of repetition in communication. It makes sense. Our short-term memories hold thoughts for five to seven seconds. Repetition helps transfer key ideas from short-term to long-term memory.

The habit of consistency

New issues and the demand of the day-to-day are distractions and the enemies of consistency. Look back, for example, at something your company "used to do well" that you no longer do.

It is often difficult to know why you stopped doing it. Great leaders are systematic. They establish "keystone habits," which are the habits of execution that matter to the company's success more than any others.

Creating your habits of leadership, whatever they may be, taps into humanity's desire for predictability and simplicity, both of which can lead to better performance.

The habit of consistency is the most important. You can be more consistent about your leadership behavior and expectations. Start with your "keystone habits." Can you identify them?

Stephen C. Wakeen is the founder of Connecticut-based Playbook Coaching LLC, which provides executive coaching services.

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