Break Bad Habits by Creating New Ones


2481040Well-meaning leaders don’t always do what they say they will. Fraser wants to give his staff more empowerment, but he edits every document they show him so much that they feel micro-managed. Sheri wants to help her staff as they navigate sensitive political issues – but she is inevitably unavailable when they need her advice. It’s not that Sheri or Fraser are bad or dishonest leaders. While being coached, they saw that they are a victim to automatic ways of behaving. Their old habits need to be replaced with habits that are more effective.

If you’re interested in understanding habits – how they are formed and how to change them – read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I discovered this exciting book in 2013 and found it invaluable for understanding the brain science behind our habitual behaviours, and why it is so hard to change our current ways. Using actual cases and fascinating stories about individuals and companies, Duhigg covers:

  • The “habit loop” of cue, routine and reward that triggers a craving in our brains
  • How changing a habit is possible only when you start at the cue and create a new routine for the same reward
  • The requirement of belief that change is possible
  • How keystone habits can change the culture of your team or your organization by quickly creating new patterns of behaviour
  • Why giving employees a sense of control increases their energy and focus
  • How boosting willpower can help those most resistant to change

What might a new leadership habit be? For Fraser, seeing a newly-minted document triggered his desire to improve it. His new habit was to make notes of what he wanted to suggest, and then pick one or two changes that would make the most difference. Alternatively, he could discuss his findings with the author, in person or by phone, without editing the document at all.

Sheri’s new habit was to add an agenda item to every team meeting and one-on-one update. During this part of the conversation – which we called “behind the scenes” – discussion would focus on stakeholders’ interests and ongoing political dynamics that might be invisible but still impacting their work.

Before you set a New Year’s resolution consider instead reading The Power of Habit and setting yourself a new Habit for 2016!

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