Good Habits Worth Stealing
When you encounter an impressive leader, it’s worth asking “What habits of theirs can I steal?”
I say steal, because it will feel like imitation at first - like you're borrowing their strengths without their knowledge.
Those close to the organisation might recognise where you got your ideas, but the other 99.99% of people you meet will have no clue – you’ll just look clever.
Here are some examples worth considering:
Doing what you say you will do
This is two habits in one. Firstly, it’s about following through on promises made in conversations, like an offer to introduce two parties, or a follow up email.
Secondly, it’s about not making courtesy offers that you’re not intending to implement.
By building a reputation for reliability, you increase the level of trust in your relationships and subtly become more likeable.
This is discussed extensively in the book The Leadership Challenge – and is self-evident: can you think of many respected managers who frequently make empty promises?
Would you want people do describe you as someone who doesn't follow through?
1-1 meetings with your team
Poor leaders will claim that there’s not enough time for regular 1-1 meetings with each of their team members.
But look at it another way: how do you expect your team to thrive if you can’t commit 30 minutes per person every quarter?
Good leaders build these into their schedules, and make them a priority. It’s about habitually checking in, asking good questions and being willing to discuss your staff’s concerns.
Once there’s a mutual trust, these become highly rewarding for culture, morale, staff retention and productivity. The key is the habit – doing it just once won’t yield many results.
Being a good conversationalist
I am always impressed by someone who intuitively keeps a conversation going. It’s like a dance; leading and following, working together to create something enjoyable and satisfying.
You'll spot this whenever two of you meet someone new. You might feel nervous that there's nothing interesting to talk about, but your colleague asks great questions and you're suddenly engaged. Matt Mullenweg said it well:
"Everyone is interesting. If you're ever bored in a conversation, the problem's with you, not the other person."
It will take you a lot of bad conversations to learn your personal style, and it's worth it. Observe others, try new questions, and seeing what makes people’s eyes light up.
Not staying late at the office
Sometimes it’s right to put in long hours to finish a project or respond to a sudden opportunity – in fact these are some of my favourite days.
The habit here is what you do on the other 95% of occasions – do you leave on time or keep working after 6pm?
Being overworked is no badge of honour, and if your workload is consistently too high then something needs to change.
I’m impressed by leaders who leave at sensible times; they clearly know how to delegate, work effectively and only commit to the most important things.
Looking for ways to make things interesting
Business need not be boring. There’s something magnetic about a person who constantly looks for ways to spice things up.
It might be through a unique meeting format, by thinking of creative ways of gathering opinions, or turning mundane tasks into team games.
This does not always come naturally, but can be learnt through observing other teams and industries, and adopting their methods for your own benefit.
After all, bored people are rarely productive.
Focusing on the audience
Bad speakers ask themselves “What would I like to say?”
Good speakers ask themselves “What would I like the audience to hear?”
Great speakers ask themselves “What would delight the audience today?”
Strong leaders constantly search for ways of keeping their audience happy – entertainment earns you the ability to persuade or inform them of your core message.
There’s something incredibly selfish about ignoring your listener’s preferences, and it doesn’t yield great results.
Proactively addressing personal weaknesses
None of us are the complete package, we all have flaws or areas that haven’t yet been developed. It might be interpersonal skills, project management, financial literacy, report writing, networking, public speaking or your knowledge of how your products are made.
Arnold Schwartzenegger describes this habit beautifully:
“Identify your weaknesses and work on them”
This is the discipline of honest self reflection (or peer reflection), committing to make a change, then identifying easy ways of making gradual improvements.
When combined with celebrating wins, this is a very effective way of building your capacity. Too much self criticism is destructive, but small amounts combined with a good plan can spark fantastic personal growth.
Balancing the busy times with rest
Earlier we discussed the merits of sometimes going above and beyond to achieve a goal. This needs to be paired with corresponding down time, when you next run out of important things to do. Great managers reward their staff, either with fun things like table tennis on a quiet afternoon, or shouting the first round at the local pub at 4pm.
Similar to a “Time in Lieu” system, good leaders habitually track the times their team has put in a serious effort, and quietly pledges to restore that balance at the next convenient opportunity.
You can also steal good habits from people you haven't met - through business books and biographies. I highly recommend Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, and Do The Work by Steven Pressfield.