"Leadership habits are formed by consistently doing smart leadership behaviors. Applying good ideas transforms behaviors to drive results. Subtle differences in the ways leaders act and respond, little differences in the ways they behave, can make a big difference in their results."
The Leadership Habit, by Tammy R. Berberick, Peter Lindsay, and Katie Fritchen identifies ten core competencies for effective leaders. Each chapter provides arguments for the importance of each competency, case studies and global research on managers with the capacity to lead their teams to greatness, and actionable tactics to help leaders develop their competencies. Each section concludes with a brief recap of the concepts of each competency, a set of personal assessment questions, and exercises that leaders can do with their teams. Whether you’re new to a leadership position, a seasoned pro looking for a tune-up, or aspiring to develop the skills needed to be a great leader in any setting, The Leadership Habit will provide you with insights and tips that you can bring with you into your day-to-day.
The Big Idea
Habits Get Results
"The language of leaders is not limited to words but instead to the way leaders communicate through actions."
The Leadership Habit examines ten key competencies for leaders, with each section further broken down into three specific skill areas. The key competencies are:
- Drive for Results
- Build the Right Teams
- Influence Others
- Understand the Business
- Execute Vision
- Encourage Excellence
- Develop Positive Relationships
- Develop Customer Focus
- Foster Innovation
- Model Personal Growth
What I loved about this book was that the authors don’t try to advocate for an over-arching solution or quick fix. They recognize that learning, like leadership, is not an event or task that can be completed—rather, it is developed through sustained action and practice. You don’t need to radically transform the way you approach your work to become a better leader—but you do need to make behavior change a habit.
One example that I loved: in the Encourages Excellence competency, the authors urge leaders to purchase personalized notecards, and create a habit or writing personal notes to team members that thank them for their hard work, and call out specific examples of excellence. You can easily complete this action in five minutes per week—but the appreciation your team feels will create lasting results.
Accountability is Crucial
"The pitfalls that can exist when teams and individuals are not accountable for owning projects, or executing steps to completion, can be expressed in a comical report about four people named Everybody, Anybody, Somebody, and Nobody. There was an important project, and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done."
Accountability is a cornerstone of building trust, and trust is essential for creating effective relationships. Whether you are driving for results, executing vision, encouraging excellence, or fostering innovation, you need trust and accountability on your side.
As the story above indicates, a lack of clarity around expectations and accountability results in things slipping through the cracks. When expectations aren’t clear, it’s easy to assume that “someone” will take care of it. Effective leaders set clear and transparent expectations, both for themselves and for their teams. This is essential for developing trusting relationships—when your team knows that they can count on you, they spend less time worrying about timelines and logistics, and more time doing great work.
Accountability also permits team members to manage their own time and schedules. If, as a leader, you trust your team members to deliver their portion of a project on time, you don’t need to waste your time micro-managing or checking in on progress. Your team will feel empowered to manage their own workload, and produce better results. One small example of this principle in action: I’m sharper for creative projects first thing in the morning, and tend to leave emails/logistics/project coordination for the afternoons. My manager and my team trust me to deliver on my objectives, so the natural cadence of my days doesn’t effect them, and they don’t need to worry about it (pretty crucial in Actionable’s results only, virtual work environment). I’ve worked in plenty of places where this kind of freedom was not the norm—and I can say with certainty that I’m a much less productive team member with someone looking over my shoulder.
Leaders Model Good Behavior
"Leaders have two responsibilities related to growing themselves: The first is to develop self-awareness to recognize necessary personal improvements and the importance of continual learning. The second is to demonstrate personal growth and effective self-management of time and energy. The demonstration component is crucial for building teams committed to growth."
This principle is deceptively simple: people tend to mirror your own behavior back to you. Anyone who has spent time with a young child understands this implicitly—kids are sponges who pick up on your actions much more than your words. A messy parent asking their kid to clean up after themselves will not get far (or will have to nag and yell a great deal to make progress). In business, as in life, the Golden Rule applies—treat people the way you want to be treated. In the realm of writing, we call this “showing, not telling,” and I try to apply this principle to my life as well as my efforts as a writer and editor. As an editor, it’s important to me to preserve the authentic voice of every writer I work with—yes, I say this often, but I strive each day to live up to my own ideals. As a leader, you can say that you have an open door policy until you’re blue in the face—but no one will believe you unless you take the action to open the door. You can evangelize the value of learning to your team—but if you haven’t made your own learning a priority, your team will get the hint that you don’t really care about it that much. Effective teams are made of individuals who seek out both personal and professional development opportunities—great leaders model this behavior, thus signalling their priorities to the team.
The Leadership Habit is an excellent addition to any leader’s repertoire. The underlying principle of the book—that great leaders work at improving their habits and actions each and every day—applies whether you’re a seasoned executive or team leader, or an individual contributor to a team looking for tactics to improve your leadership skills. As always, I think it’s important to distinguish between management and leadership—“manager” is part of a job description or title, while being an effective “leader” is a mindset that we can all adopt. We can all work to get a little bit better each and every day.
How are you developing the habits of leadership?