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9 Micro-Habits for Better Leadership

I’ve found in life that the simplest advice is often the most powerful and that small habits you adopt paint the big picture of who you are. This observation holds true with leadership.

Admiral William McRaven, in his commencement speech to the graduates at The University of Texas, said:

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another.”

This isn’t the first wise human I’ve heard extolling the virtues of the habit of making your bed. One of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life includes keeping your house in order and making your bed.

This got me thinking. I’ve studied and practiced leadership for over 20 years and much ado is made over the large leadership brushstrokes like “lead by example” and “don’t micromanage.”

But what about the little ones — those tiny habits like making your bed that can be the icing on your leadership cake?

Here are 10 mini brushstrokes of habit that can help paint a better picture of your leadership, perhaps even a masterpiece someday.

#1. Give Someone Genuine Appreciation

A Clear Review study showed that “lack of appreciation” is the #1 frustration for employees. 40% of all employees polled said giving appreciation just wasn’t a priority for their bosses.

Not everyone needs a pat on the back, but true appreciation unleashes in many people a desire to excel so why wouldn’t leaders prioritize it? After all, a leader can do nothing without their people. Appreciation recognizes this fact.

Always be sure to only give credit, praise, or appreciation when deserved. And only with 100% sincerity, otherwise, it becomes counterproductive and dishonest.

“Tend to the people, and they will tend to the business.” — John Maxwell

#2. Shorten That Meeting

A Clarizen Poll of more than 2,000 employees determined that 46% of employees would rather do any other unpleasant activity than sit in a meeting. This included a trip to the DMV, watching paint dry, and even getting dental work done.

Of course, meetings are needed, but try to shorten meetings to critical points. Keep it on track for maximum efficiency and content. Save the personal pontificating and wandering pondering for after. Remember, most people would rather getting their teeth drilled than be there. The more you don’t stay on point, the more you’re looked at like a careless dentist.

Running efficient meetings respects your people and their time.

#3. Read Something About Leadership

If you’re reading this, you’re good for today! I simply love this quote from the most famous leader I’ve met personally, General James Mattis. I have used it in many articles because it’s so powerful to me:

“If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.”

While you may not read hundreds of books, you should read about leadership. There is so much knowledge out there from proven leaders who have sat right where you are sitting now.

The best leaders don’t try to reinvent the leadership wheel, they read.

#4. Think Like a Follower/Evaluate How You Listen

The best leaders can see things through the eyes of their followers because often they were good followers before they became leaders.

Empathy and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) are both skills that leaders need to constantly strengthen. In fact, EQ is often thought of as more important than IQ in good leadership.

Analyze closely how you listen to people. Is it intently with mouth closed and mind open or do you just listen for a pause to release the floodgates of your own mind? People hate that if so.

I struggle with this one the most as a leader and even a friend. I constantly have to remind myself to shut up and listen harder.

“People unconsciously know when you are not listening to them. Then they say ‘no’ to you.” — James Altucher

#5. Teach Someone Something

Teaching someone something can be so rewarding to both you and the person you are teaching. School teachers know this feeling — that “aha” moment of joy when knowledge finally takes a seat comfortably in someone’s mind.

When you take time to patiently teach someone something, they’ll remember it and remember you for taking that time. Teaching is a form of generosity and a generous leader is a loved leader.

How many of us remember our favorite teachers decades later? There’s a reason for that.

The best leaders I met in the Marines were also the best teachers — this was not a coincidence.

#6. Take Initiative to Improve Something

“It’s not my job” isn’t usually on the tip of a good leader’s tongue. This doesn’t mean meddle in someone else’s work, but if you see something that needs to be done, just do it.

This puts a leader in the mindset of ownership. Of responsibility. Of accountability. All qualities that make a leader more effective and attractive to followers.

“Take some initiative and snap outside of passivity; consistent small actions have impact.” — Darren Rowse

#7. Talk About Something Other Than Work

Looking at someone as who they are and not as just an employee can make all the difference in how you lead them.

When both leader and follower are humanized with personal conversation a dynamic is set up that is much more productive than just a boss/employee dynamic.

A authentic person-to-person dynamic is the most effective one a leader can cultivate.

“Managers should legitimately care about each person he or she manages. If you invest your time, effort, and energy in helping people, they will be able to develop personally and professionally. You’ll also be tuned in to their goals and aspirations. As a result, employees are happier and better at their jobs.” — John Gray, VP of Homaway, Inc.

#8. Take a Break!

Taking a mental break can make a huge difference in the quality of leader you are because it helps you make better decisions. Not only that, it adds to your creativity.

A study conducted by Princeton revealed that court judges denied parole to prisoners more often as the day went on. Early in the day, they had approved 65% of requests for parole. As the day wore on with no breaks they leveled off at a parole approval rate of…0%! Then after a short mental break, they hovered around 65% again.

Other research has shown that even a five-minute walk break will improve your overall well-being and creativity as well.

Taking breaks can make you a wiser, more creative, happier leader. Taking breaks is an effective way to work smarter.

#9. Make a Small Decision You’ve Been Avoiding

Decisiveness is critical to leadership. If you need more practice or confidence in making decisions, start with smaller, easier ones. Once you get in the decide and act mode, it’s easier to keep doing it again and again.

Decisiveness is a skill strengthened by frequency. So if you lack the will to make big decisions, start small to strengthen that muscle and you’ll be more decisive in no time.

Decisiveness is a muscle.

“It’s better to be boldly decisive and risk being wrong than to agonise at length and be right too late.”― Marilyn Moats Kennedy, Author and Career Strategist

Final Thoughts

Like bricks to a building or brushstrokes to a painting, leadership is made out of hundreds of small habits which combine into a picture. As Charles Reade said:

“Sow an act and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.”

And while you may not complete your leadership destiny overnight, at least you’ll be coming home to a well-made bed.

And that certainly adds a small yet beautiful brushstroke to your masterpiece!

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