I borrowed the title of this post from a blog post written for Inc. by Gordon Tredgold on 6/28/17. A colleague posted Tredgold’s article to our email distribution list and asked for feedback. Sometimes when I receive an article like this I prefer to write my own version before (or in place of) reading the original article. That’s what I’m doing here. But here’s a link to Tredgold’s article in case you want his excellent thoughts!

Chicago, 2017

Since leaders are basically human beings with certain responsibilities in the context of a cause or organization it makes sense to think of habits that leaders might cultivate since human beings are in the business of cultivating habits. Rather than falling into habits through a kind of mindless default, there’s power in consciously selecting and then habituating ourselves to certain habits. We can quibble over whether the following list contains habits, mindsets, dispositions, ways of being, traits, or some other form of personal commitment. But when I think of good habits for leaders, “these are they”:

  1. Be Present. It’s quite difficult to lead if you’re not present. Of course this means physically. But it also means intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. It turns out that being present might be the most basic and most difficult habit of all.
  2. Be Connected. We are connected. That’s basically a cosmic truth if you stop and really think about it. But that doesn’t mean that we feel connected. It doesn’t mean that we exist in ways that honor relationships, that overcome perceived isolation, that bridge chasms of understanding. Technology has laid claim to the idea of connectedness, to the detriment of real connection. Leaders and human beings need to be present and be connected– to ourselves, to one another, to our shared values and visions, and so on.
  3. Be open. Different than being transparent. Different than being honest. Though these are important as well. Being open means being ready to encounter reality as it is. It means being open to feedback, new ideas, better ways of doing things, criticisms, opportunities. It takes tremendous discipline to cultivate a habit of openness because being open means letting go of many of the things that potentially anchor our work and our identity. But the opposite of being open is a no-go. Find me a leader or human being that has succeeded by being closed.
  4. Joy. There’s much cause for celebration in daily life. And it’s a rare and special person who is so deeply attuned to the joy of living that they are able to infuse their life and their community with awareness of that joy. It’s also a rare person that doesn’t respond positively to little infusions of joy in their day or their workplace. As joy sometimes gets lost amidst the work, leaders and human beings do well to cultivate a habit of joy.
  5. Care. Leaders and human beings must care. It’s really that simple. Read Nel Noddings. I’ve written about this before. If you don’t care about yourself, others, your organization, the quality of your work– then what’s the point????
  6. Meaning. As problem solvers and doers, sometimes we get so focused on how that we forget about why. There’s nothing wrong with how. It’s just that we do well to surround ourselves with lots of different types of questions, especially those that push us toward understanding the meaning(s) that we and others have in our lives and in our work. Leaders do well to cultivate a habit of reflecting on the meanings that permeate every community and workplace.
  7. Be reliable. Life is tough and reliable people make life better for everyone. Being reliable means being honest, being trustworthy, being accountable, being responsible, and being organized. Leaders are only reliable if they complete tasks, get back to people in a timely fashion, follow through and so on. Reliability is an undervalued but critical habit.

Well, I’ve come up with 7 instead of 9 but I’m pretty happy with the list. I’d love anyone’s thoughts or feedback that might have read this far!

Want to Be A Better Leader? Then Adopt These 9 Habits!

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