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Leadership Bad Habits: Diagnose the Causes Before Acting

Leadership Habit Diagnosis

As the business year ends, the time to assess your personal leadership improvement program has arrived.

  • Where have you made good progress in integrating your desired new habits into your internal and interpersonal routines?
  • Where has the progress been halting?
  • Backsliding into bad old habits is inevitable. What caused it?

It is time to write out your results in detail using the information you have been tracking all year (your own journal entries, feedback obtained from coworkers, etc.)

If you kept an honest record, you will find a good dose of failure woven into the successes. But be encouraged! Failure contains the seeds of success if you learn from your experiences and apply the lessons to your ongoing habit change plans.

Frankly, we recommend you drop the idea that habit change responds to a calendar. It is a long journey with stops, starts and detours. As long as you make more steps forward than backwards, you are a better leader today than you were yesterday!

One key lesson to learn? Take the time to diagnose your issues before diving into habit change. Social scientists call this “pre-contemplation,” which we define as thinking through the pros and cons of your current habits. What circumstances (within your mind, or externally) trigger the bad habit, and what better outcomes do you seek through habit change?

“People tend to fail because they start directly in the contemplating phase—they rethink their personal beliefs, capabilities, they start thinking, ‘I can do this…’ But what they haven’t done is become fully aware of the current situation and the consequences of continuing with what you’re doing,” says Sebastian Bailey, author of Mind-Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently (quoted in a Forbes article from 2016).

Build Leadership Skill and HabitsWhat can you find through this diagnosis? That same Forbes article quotes Journalist Charles Duhigg, who calls habits “a combination of a trigger or cue that prompts us to act in a certain way, followed by a routine that culminates in a reward we receive from engaging in that habit.” A bad leadership habit might be to intervene in activities to complete them (a short-term gain) instead of patiently waiting for an employee to work their way through a problem (short-term pain, long-term gain.) Worse, you might allow followers to take the blame for errors instead of accepting/shouldering the fault yourself as the team leader. Deflecting blame has short-term relief (your own reputation is not dented, perhaps), but you cause long-term damage to employee trust and morale.

This is why you must first spend the time to understand what drives your current habits, to expose their root causes. What motivates you to act this way? What external influencers could also be encouraging the bad habits? This increased awareness lets you can plan more confidently when deciding which habits to improve first, and in which combination. We wrote about how to combine habit-change goals in our previous post.

“For personal change, it’s about understanding the problem and understanding the emotions around it. If people feel the problem strongly enough, they’ll do anything to solve it,” Bailey says in his book.

Belief is a big part of successful habit change. You are as talented and inspired as anyone else around you. But you have to believe that! To that end, also put a lot of thought into your support team. Habits are much easier to create or change if you have social support. We wrote about this, too, in a recent blog post, from the supporters’ perspective.

Finally, Brooke and Dave would love to join your team, adding their combined 60 years of experience helping people (and teams) with this critical career success factor. Ask them any questions you may have!

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