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Leaders: Who has control, your habits or you?


Who has control, your habits or you?

Superior leadership performance is influenced by many habits. The more constructive habits a leader has the higher their performance. The more destructive habits, the worse their performance. When a leader has performance impairing habits their performance can be so poor, they can do so much damage, that they ought to be “exited” from their organisation. By contrast, leaders with an array of constructive leadership habits either grow their organisations, or, outgrow their organisations and are headhunted into much larger businesses. As someone whose role is to get leaders promoted, you might imagine understanding habits is a passion. This article seeks to raise awareness of the issues.  Leaders: Who has control, your habits or you?

Destructive habits rarely start out as such. In decades of leadership coaching I have never found any leader with a destructive habit who set out to form one.

Normally destructive leadership habits emerge from behaviour that was constructive in the context it was formed. The context changes and what was constructive yesterday, is today destructive. In that case, the leader started out in control of the habit, but the habit, through the change of context, took control of the leader. We can now see that a change in context can change the location of control. But how can that happen to highly talented, highly aware leaders?

For most of us, after our habits are formed they become invisible to us; we lose awareness of the habit. It becomes part of the furniture, our mental furniture. Before long we have a vast number of habits, of which we have little or no awareness. That suggests a very clear answer to the question asked…

Leaders: Who has control, your habits or you? Your habits.

Limited or absent awareness of habits causes problems. To give example: for almost all leaders, the context in which they operate changes frequently, if not constantly. That is certainly true for leaders who spend all day every day leading change. For others, managers, whose main role is to ensure that the status quo runs smoothly, change is less frequent. For both leaders and managers, any change in context can render yesterday’s constructive habit, overnight, destructive, with no awareness of the changed outcomes.

Now that we understand how it is possible to lose control of a habit, at overview level, let’s dig a little deeper.

Most leaders are aware of the concept ‘habit,’ a behaviour that is repeated without any thought and little, if any, effort.

Habits, for most people, are frequently repeated behaviours. That is true, but is just one part of a much larger picture. We also have thought habits. You will have experienced this yourself. Certain thoughts you always have in the same context. For example, you might always have the same thoughts when you put on your physical exercise clothing. For some leaders those thoughts might be similar to: “I’ll be glad when this is done!” For others the habitual thought might be: “Great: some me time!”

Predictable and repeated thoughts are just one dimension of the multi-faceted phenomenon known as ‘habit’. Leaders also have emotional habits. Using the same exercise example, you might instantly start to feel good when you put on your training shoes. Or, your heart might sink as you feel that you have to, yet again, do something you hate for reasons that are beneficial.

Already we have explored three dimensions of the habit phenomenon, (behaviour, thought, emotion), and there are many more.

For most leaders, the complexity of the dimensions of habit and how they interact is something they have never thought about, among the thousands of other things that have to be thought about. Most leaders’ understanding is limited to that scantily covered in books with titles like “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Follow the prescribed habits and all will be well. Or not. (As an aside, there are very many more than seven.) There is a higher level of understanding of habit, a much higher level.

When appropriate in leadership coaching, I believe it is essential that a leader fully understands the dimensions of habit, how habits form, and how they can be changed. Why?

Firstly, to enable the leader to address any problem habits that they may have unintentionally adopted, or emerged by way of change of context.

Secondly, and, this is hugely valuable to leaders who wish to perform at the highest possible level, to equip the leader with the ability to form any constructive habit they wish.

Thirdly, to give the leader full control over all their habits, now and in the future.

Fourthly, to equip leaders with an understanding of how habits impact the performance of staff, and how to help staff adopt peak performance habits.

Once equipped with a full understanding, of how to form, and change any habit, leaders can choose their own level of performance.

Asking our original question again… Leaders: Who has control, your habits or you? Here is the brief answer.

If you fully understand the nature of habits, and apply that understanding, you have control. If your knowledge is limited to that contained in introductory books, then it is likely that your habits control you.

If you wish to obtain full control of your habits contact PsyPerform.