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Habit Change is Hard Yet Critical to Great Leadership

habit change is hard says Bovo-Tighe

A recent article on the strategy & business blog got us thinking about how different managers seek, accept and handle feedback. The best approach is to seek it, evaluate it, figure out how to incorporate it into your career plan, and implement the plan.

According to the article, by PwC’s Jesse Sostrin, too many managers seek and evaluate feedback, but fail to fully leverage it to improve their performance. Falling back into a comfortable, if unproductive rut is apparently a “thing” even among the senior managers that PwC advises. As Sostrin notes:

“This isn’t a message for procrastinators or emerging leaders alone — as a business advisor and leadership coach, I’ve see these tactics up close from even the most motivated, senior leaders. And it’s not another take on the power of giving and receiving feedback — I trust that you’re already striving to do that in most instances. This is about that one, central theme — your legacy feedback — that has shown up for you repeatedly, yet remains neglected.”

Mr. Sostrin focuses on the “legacy feedback” that managers may have been receiving for months or years about particular behaviors that are impeding their success. We see this as a failure of not just those managers, but the support team of peers, mentors and coaches that are supposed to be challenging them to exit those comfort zones that are triggering unhelpful behavior.

Still, the manager is ultimately responsible for taking action to fix the problem.

Learning How to Reinvest Feedback into Leadership Development

Let’s view this not from the manager’s perspective, but from the support team’s. How could you as a boss or mentor shake such organizational leaders out of their slumps? How can you get them to invest the critical feedback “back into their career” and take the needed action to adopt the better leadership behaviors they need? Here are a few suggestions to get you started, running a “career scrum” with her or him:

Make a very specific list of the behaviors that need to improve or change. Get the manager to keep a daily journal about where he or she is successfully attempting different behavior sets, and when backsliding occurs. Have the manager track what happens in each case, to reinforce the value inherent in the new habits you are trying to build together.

Keep bringing up the critical feedback. Just as my high school freshman son would rather not act on my advice about better academic habits, because it is “harder” than doing the minimum to pass, so the manager in question may simply be failing to generate energy around the steps he or she needs to take to improve. So much energy is expended simply surviving in many organizations that the extra energy needed to execute a personal improvement plan may be hard to find.

Build Leadership Skill and HabitsBreak the challenge down into manageable steps. Help the manager by working together to create a reasonable roadmap that has a lot of small or mid-range achievement steps that can build a sense of accomplishment and renew the manager’s commitment to improve. Here are a few journal topics to get her or him started:

  • Write about advances, obstacles, changes within your work environment that impede or speed-up progress. Document changes in scope or boundary conditions that will change your original goal-statements, objectives and/or desired outcomes.
  • Note how many times you were able to pause before replying in conversations to think about the outcome that you desire, including the feeling you would like to experience. Did you form your response constructively?
  • Assess yourself after meetings, one-on-ones, completion of projects, etc. to determine how you are doing, what you could have done differently, what you want to start, stop or continue doing. Record the feedback you get from others when you ask them those same questions.
  • Reflect on how you mitigated your own hot spots or blind spots, with specific examples.
  • Did you make your daily to-do lists? What happened to it?
  • Did you carve out white space on your calendar with at least two 2-hours blocks of time to think and plan? Did you keep those appointments? What did you work on?
  • Did you create and add to your Victory Log? Write down at least one accomplishment at the end of the day, focusing on what you have done as opposed to focusing on what you haven’t done.

Emulate the new behaviors in your joint meetings. Have the manager shadow you occasionally when you know you will be interacting with various people (employees, peers and bosses.)

Share your own war stories. Give concrete examples of your own halting journey to becoming a more effective leader, and how you recovered from the toe-stubs you incurred along the way.

Celebrate successes! Make it a point to track your own observations of the person’s progress, and find time to celebrate progress you have seen (or heard about) with the manager. Be specific about what you are celebrating, too, to reinforce the gains.

This is just a partial list. Brainstorm/scrum with your employee, mentees and coaching partners to lay out your own improvement plans. Lay out in detail how you as the partner/advisor will play your role in holding the manager’s feet to the fire and keeping them focused on improvement.

Does this inspire you to invest more energy in developing your team members? Do you see how you can leverage feedback to build professional skills and further your own career at the same time?

If you have a lot of questions, ask Brooke or Dave about how to construct personal development plans in more detail.

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