Character is the intersection of a variety of factors. Habits and values are two of those factors. Other people make judgments about your values from by observing your habits. When you tell people you value providing quality feedback to your followers, that is a statement of a value you hold. People who hear you observe your behavior and decide if you really value coaching and counseling your workers. When they see you counseling others, they know you value that behavior. On the other hand, if you never
coach and counsel your employees, everyone knows you are all talk and counseling others really is not important to you. Given that habits are nothing more than routines people use to simplify life, then deciding to change your habits enables you to align your behavior with your stated values. When those habits involve influencing others, you become a better leader.
Anyone can apply the principals in this post to any habit they want to change or create. For the purpose of discussion, I will continue to use the counseling example from the introduction because it is a leadership task often overlooked by supervisors. The steps are simple; the principals sound.
The principals for changing habits are the same as those for problem solving. Work on one habit at a time. Understand what habit you want to change and why. Know the desired result. Develop a solid plan to implement change. Identify people for support. Steps for habit change include:
- identifying the habit you want to change,
- identifying the motivation for change,
- identifying the cues or triggers, what is the routine, and what is your reward
- identifying where in the cycle you can make a change,
- developing a plan to implement the change,
- evaluating your results.
Like setting a goal, you need to be specific about what habit you want to change. Provide answers to all the who, what, where, why, when, and how questions. Write down those answers. Writing down things helps organize the thought process. When you write down things, you can let those thoughts out of your head and delve deeper into your analysis of the habit.
In our example, you want to become a better counselor to those you supervise. Counseling helps them become better employees that work independently. Employees that work independently allow you to focus
on the future so your group remains relevant to the organization. Your planning ensures mission accomplishment which creates happy customers. Happy customers develop loyalty improving everyone’s job security. So employee counseling is important.
Simon Sinek encourages us to start with why. Understanding WHY allows you to focus on your motivation. This helps you identify what is important to you. After you identify what is important, compare those values to your habitual actions in different situations or events. Ask yourself if those actions are congruent with your values. Sometimes your habits align with your values. Sometimes your habits run contrary to your values. You do not realize this until you analyze your habits.
In our example of counseling employees, you say it is important, yet at the end of every evaluation period you realize you did not counsel your employees. You identify it as a habit you want to develop. You identify your motivation for developing this habit as becoming an effective leader. You know effective leaders improve organizations.
Every habit has a cue or trigger. The cue is the signal to begin a routine outside your thought process. When the routine is complete, you receive some sort of reward. To change your habit, figure out the cue or trigger, identify the routine, and the reward. Take time to write down the answer to each part of the whole habit so you can better understand what happens.
In the case of counseling employees, identify what cues block counseling sessions. What actions or events prevent you from taking time to prepare and execute employee counseling? What rewards can you establish to encourage you to change your behavior? Write down your answers. Use this information to create cues to execute the counseling. Calendar reminders are simple and easy triggers to begin a habit you want to start.
Now that you understand the habit and your motivation for change, focus your attention on change you can invoke. Common strategies include recognizing where the cue or trigger is initiated and avoiding that trigger, substituting a different routine, or changing the reward for the old routine so the habit is not rewarding. Treat this part of the process like a science experiment. Try different approaches at different parts of the habit cycle until you find something that works. Be easy on yourself. Habits form to reduce the work our brain has to do. It takes time and repetition to break an old habit and create a new habit.
Preparing to counsel employees is a time intensive process. Once you develop a habit cycle, the process becomes easier because your mind creates shortcuts to execute the key parts of counseling. In addition to calendar reminders, notify the employee of a date and time for the counseling. If an employee knows about the ‘appointment’ they will help you prepare. The employee will remind you. They may offer ideas about topics they want to discuss during the counseling. Learn to take notes about performance during the week. Figure out which cues work to develop routines to make counseling easier.
As you move down the time continuum, measure the progress you made with your new habit. Figure out how it made your life better. Use this success to start a new habit cycle to align another habit with your values.
As you start to counsel your employees, you measure your progress from the documented counselings. Each session documents the time and person counseled. Use the data to learn whether you are meeting the intervals you wanted, or if you need to tweak your routine a bit to meet those time hacks. Figure out how you can measure the employees improvements from their regular meetings with you. Compare their new behaviors to those occurring before you started your counseling. At the end of a rating period, you find you have plenty of documentation to validate your evaluation.
As your habits become more aligned with your values, you develop character. People will believe you will do what you say because what you say, you do. They develop trust you are the person you say you are.
As you begin to habitually counsel your employees, they learn you care about their success. They know you listen to what they say. They trust you to look out for their welfare by helping them improve. You become their role model; someone who has character. You developed the power to influence their behavior and they follow you. Your senior leaders heed your advice because of the improvements you demonstrated increasing your influence.
The foundation of leadership is character. Two defining factors of character are your values and habits. Your habits tell others what your values are. They see your values in everything you do. Creating habits aligned with your values increases the influence you have with senior leaders, your peers, and those who report to you. Often leadership instruction sounds much like personal self-improvement. However, when you create new habits you develop power and influence, create trust, and cause the change you desire in others through your own actions. When your words and actions influence others you are a leader regardless of your title. Analyze your habits. Increase your influence. Become a better leader.
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- Geese in Formation — Pxhere.com, CC0, no additional attribution available