In a fast paced world where ever more is demanded of leaders and the teams we manage, it is essential to exercise an inside out approach to problems and “yes i can” attitude to resolution. At the heart of this is the art of focusing our mind and resources on making progress, over wasting our energy and attention on creating excuses. In short: winners make progress and losers get lost in a mine-field of justifications for failure. However there are reasons why staff make excuses and great leaders need to understand why people feel the need to make excuses in order to be able to guide them alternatively to making progress.
Knowledge is learning something new everyday. Wisdom is letting go of some bad habits everyday.
Bad habits — everyone’s got them. From nail biting to being perpetually late, we all have little behavioural patterns that we could definitely live without. Being ourselves – fallible human beings – is often used as an excuse why we have these “imperfections”, but our own unique “human” self-awareness and resilience is actually the best defence against unhealthy and unwanted habits.
Bad habits can be broken.
“Habit” is a routine of behaviour repeated regularly that tends to occur subconsciously. A routine we repeat regularly becomes increasingly difficult to break or even to observe. These habits (good and bad) are the infraestructure of our lives and in many ways they determine our future which is why it is essential to not only pursue success habits but also be capable of identifying, breaking and removing bad ones. For leaders we have to not only be capable of doing this for ourselves but also be able to lead our team in doing it for themselves.
Great people leaders are capable of guiding others to break bad habits.
The most obvious tool in fighting bad habits is the prevention of the habit to begin with. This is why effective training of any team can’t only focus on training the needed skills and procedures to follow, it must also go into attitudes and expectations. A new staff member may have the pre-existing bad habit of using their personal phone at work but when they start their new job they have a clean-slate, offering them an opportunity to break bad habits. However if your work productivity training hasn’t covered the consequences of uncontrolled personal phone usage on productivity and left clear the linkage of this to work results – and even to work contentness – you can be pretty sure this pre-existing – bad – habit will surface soon.
The first line of defence against bad work habits is training in prevention.
The same goes for common bad habits, like: punctuality, poor work appearance, staff chatting, social media usage, procrastination etc… if your induction hasn’t left clear your company’s expectations in these areas and linked these to staff productivity, you can be pretty sure staff’s pre-existing bad habits will surface. More dangerous than this, is that one new staff member’s uncontrolled bad habit, could break the good habits other staff members have worked hard to implant. No company or work environment has the exact same environment so the bad habits you are seeking to prevent will no doubt be specific to your work conditions but what is essential as a leader is to recognise that you have the responsibility to guide your team away from forming bad habits.
As leader you have the responsibility to prevent staff forming bad habits at work.
Not all bad habits can be prevented, some will escape our influence and form and others are too strongly implanted to be “prevented” by training alone. Also, if we move into a new leadership post, we will inherit a team with pre-existing good and bad work habits therefore we also need to know how to address, cure and remove bad habits, as well as preventing them. The first key factor to addressing and overcoming a bad habit, be it in our ourselves or others, is to be conscious – aware – of the problem, the transition from stage 1 to 2 in the learning pyramid. This may sound simple or reductive, but it can be one of the most difficult steps in the process of overcoming a negative pattern. Try to notice what exactly you (or your team player) are doing, and then identify the triggers (cues) and the environment of the habit. If a team playing is procrastinating, ask what is causing that procrastination? Is it them feeling they have too many things to do? Is it the “weight” of making that first step? Or is it lack of confidence in a specific area? Once you identified the root cause you can direct willpower directly towards that specific moment and fight the continuation of that bad habit head on.
The first step to curing a bad habit is awareness of it and connecting its occurence to a trigger or sequence of triggers.
After you have observed the habit and identified the cause of the issue, it is a good idea to write it all down: noting down the (bad) habit and below the triggers you identified and then the root cause of those triggers and finally the consequence of you of the habit. This process aligns awareness of why this behaviour occurs with the real consequences and hence make it easier to focus on what to do about it which ultimately should be removing a bad habit and replacing it with a good one. Looking at the example notes to the right for a staff member of mine, you can see how the awareness of having a messy desk was justified by leaving in a rush due to (trigged by) the worry they felt about not arriving on time to pick up their son. When they were asked to look into the consequences of leaving in a rush, they identified it had more impact on them than first thought: it was causing them: to leave some things half done, starting the next day with disorganization and feeling less control over their work responsibilities. As they went through this process, they realised the real root cause was their poor time management which was a far bigger issue to address than a messy desk but by analyzing why they had a messy desk they reached this far more useful conclusion. They then identified that a solution could be having an “end of day (tidy up) routine” that they time-blocked into their daily work procedure. They thenconcluded that this would only happen if they planned out their days week by week and reflected on and replanned their day daily. The result of this “bad habit” identification process (see also diagrams below) was an a commitment to plan out their day and the understanding of the consequence this was having on them.
However being aware of a bad habit and then identifying a solution will still often not be enough by itself to remove an entrenched bad habit. In these oircumstances we will also need ready made “if then” counter plans to redirect us in a more positive direction when we feel the “cues” (triggers) of a bad habit. For example in the messy desk example, we would likely need “if then” plans for the following situation below which could break our “end of the day routine” unless we were prepared for them.
- If a must do task out of your control was scheduled for the end of the day – IF THEN: I would move my “end of day routine” forward and do it an hour earlier for all areas i could.
- If an improtu situation happens at the end of the day that i can’t avoid – IF THEN: I would do my end of day routine later after i had picked up my son and/or come in earlier the next day to still start my day in an organized fashion.
- If I find myself losing the desire to do my end of day routine – IF THEN: I would put up notes around my desk and on my computer reminding myself of the difference it had made and why it mattered to me.
These are just some examples but the point is that to really break a tough bad habit you must be prepared for moments of weakness and have “if then” responses planned to redirect you when feel the cues (triggers).
If you want to break a entrenched bad habit, you need to have “if then” plans prepared for dealing with weak moments.
Breaking bad habits is an essential part of staff productivity and should form an integral part of any professional development programme. We should train staff in good practices to help prevent bad work habits forming. However even more so, as leaders, we must be ready to identify and bring up with staff in feedback sessions bad habits that we spot and should encourage them to actively do this identification for themselves. When we spot bad habits that we know are effectively work productivity, our goal must be to put an action plan in place to remove them and indead replace the bad, with a good habit. When we achieve this we will reap the rewards, not only in the direct benefit of having more productive staff but also, if we did the process right, ones who in the future can identify and remove bad habits for themselves.
Great managers know how to break bad habits so they are replaced with good ones.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
– Thomas A. Edison
As a manager there is nothing more frustrating than investing time, money and emotional energy into developing a staff member and yet still after all this effort and personal attention they fail to improve. Whilst there are many reasons this might have happened, i will cover here 5 frequent causes that every manager should bear in mind and be equipped to steer their staff away from.
Every manager should be aware of common reasons staff fail to improve as without that they will not be able to guide their staff past them.
Reason 1: the staff member doesn’t identify with why they should improve?
For people to invest themselves in creating positive personal change, they must willingly and consciously identify with a reason why it matters to them to personally to do so. The why factor is their lamp which guides them in dark, it is their energy drink which gives them strength to keep moving forward. Our job as managers is to help provide this why. It is an useless exercise to point out what a staff member needs to improve in but not explain why it matters. It is also equally prone to failure – at least in the longer term – to demand change but not help your staff to realise why that change is beneficial to them. The why factor is the logic that feeds our natural WIIFM (what’s in if for me?) motivation and without it very few staff members will keep pushing themselves over the long haul to create personal change. One must remember all habit change is established over time.
Management TIP I: provide the why and make it personal.
Reason 2: the staff member doesn’t link the change required to their daily actions?
Even though romantics would like to think differently, it is not eureka insight itself which creates change but rather the actions that come about because of that moment of enlightenment. Indeed there is little benefit in knowing you need to change, if you don’t work out how you will change and connect that to concrete daily and weekly actions. Gary Keller in his excellent “One Thing” development book stats the way to do this is to ask yourself: “what one thing could i do to create the change i need?” and to keep on doing this until the answer becomes “one thing” that you can do right now. This technique of continuously questioning in order to arrive at the action to be done right now is one way to connect your goal to daily life but what matters here is to recognise that many people fail to improve not because they don’t recognise change is needed but rather because they don’t connect it to concrete action. Therefore our job as a manager is to pinpoint this action if staff can not do it themselves.
Management TIP II: connect change as resulting from repeated daily actions.
Reason 3: staff fail to time-block in the actions needed to create change.
Even if staff identify with why they should change and connect improvement to a specific set of daily actions, many will still fail because they won’t time-block in these actions so they will happened without fail. We have all experienced what frequently happens with new year resolutions, where we promise to get healthier or to lose weight by going to the gym 3 times a week but by February we have already stopped going. A frequent reason why is we never time-blocked in the set days to go or, if we did, we didn’t react to the unexpected by readjusting our time blocking (the days we plan to go to gym) to the dynamics of our schedule. Professional development often fails to evolve for similar reasons. For example we stop reflecting at the end the day the moment we become too busy but this didn’t have to be case if we had time-blocked in 10 minutes to do so and respected the importance of doing it. If we don’t time-block in the actions needing to be done, inevitably something in our day will knock us of track. As a manager we should get staff to realise how essential time-blocking in development time (the actions needing done to improve) is to actual improvement as without protecting the time you need to do the actions to improve you quite simply will never improve.
Management TIP III: Make sure staff schedule in and time-block development time.
Reason 4: staff don’t turn actions into habit so once early enthusiasm (or pushing from you) dies down they drop it.
Few personal improvements which result from actions we are doing will remain in the long term unless we manage to turn them into success habits. Deciding what actions we need to do requires decision making energy and keeping them up each and everyday takes willpower and we only have so much of both these. This is why it is essential we aim to establish our actions we are doing to improve into a habit or set of them. When something is a habit, we no longer need to use decision making energy or willpower each day to keep them up, we rather do them almost without thinking. Brushing our teeth or putting on clean clothes are two routine habits that nearly all of us do without expending any mental energy. Likewise for more complex and demanding habits, like training for a marathon, many of us reach the moment when going for a training run is no longer a mental effort to do, rather it is part of our routine, part of our sense of being. Improvement in ourselves in work is similar, if for example we are working on goal setting and reflection, we should aim to reach a point when we no longer force ourselves to reflect at the end of the day, we rather just do it automatically without thinking, when we have got there we have established a habit and the benefit of that change, whilst still needing maintenance, is likely to continue because it is now part of us. Great managers therefore keep guiding their staff in their improvement areas until it is part of them, until the habit is so deeply entwined with their sense of self that it will not stop.
Management tip IV: push for staff to fix their improvement via fixed habits.
Reason 5: staff don’t form a continuous relationship with their improvement goal.
It might sound strange to use the expression “relationship with” when referring to ourselves and our goals but it is a real concept. Once we enter into the world of development, we enter into a personal relationship with the improvements we are seeking. They become part of us, part of our story. Improvements can change our personality and develop our character and thus when mastered they become part of us. A relationship with our goals – and the actions required to get them – is seeing the connection between the action of doing them and the real -change – result it has on us when they have been completed. It is talking to friends, colleagues and mentors about these development goals and synergising the logic of why you must do it with why it matters to you. Your goal becomes your success journey, part of your life story. Staff who let a habit become part of how they define themselves are far more likely to keep it up as it is part of the new and better you. Our role as leaders is to help our staff to embrace this relationship with their goals and accept the new person that results from the change and when this happens the improvement is entrenched and complete change completed.
Management tip V: help staff to form a relationship with their goals.
Great managers understand that their role is much more than just pointing out areas for their staff to improve on, it is rather to guide them along the long and challenging journey of positive personal change. Leaders must help their staff: find the “why”, to connect change to daily actions, to time-block, to form habits and develop a long term relationship with the change itself. When leaders guide their staff in these 5 essential steps, staff will have a far better change of making the improvement the leader was demanding.
Great leaders dont just pinpoint things to improve on, they rather guide staff along their development journey of positive change.
Words have magical power. They can bring the greatest happiness or the darkest despair.
Words are powerful. They have the ability to inspire, motivate, and persuade; or discourage, dismiss, and dissuade. With your words, you can wield the power to plant the seeds of success or failure in the mind of another, and in the process you reveal who you are, how you think, and what you believe. Whether it’s buying in an interest group, promoting a product, building a team, or mending a relationship, the right words spoken at the right time can change everything. Power words and techniques can help us to engage our listeners and persuade them to follow our lead. Continue reading “Power words and communication techniques”
The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.
– Albert Einstein
There is a great tendency by people to want to think in whole truths, to think for example that someone is intelligent or not. But the problem with thinking this way is it creates “I am” or “I am not” mentality. Sometimes the result of this can be to oversimplify and hence self limit oneself, i.e.: as you “are intelligent” you don’t need to learn more or to change or as you “are not intelligent” you accept, you can never learn or do certain things. However, intelligence – like personality – is not this simple to define and rather there are many ways to express intelligence, or better said many types of intelligence. For this reason it is unlikely the case that someone is just “more intelligent” than everyone else, rather they are more gifted in certain usage of intelligence. Continue reading “Using the 9 types of intelligence in management”
Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for better than yesterday.
Perfectionism is one of the most polarizing attributes for managers to deal with. Some leaders instinctively stand by it as key characteristic behind motivating an individual to achieve quality results, whilst others see it as a negative characteristic which causes poor time prioritization. No matter where you stand as a leader you will need to manage perfectionism at some point, be it in yourself or in those you lead. The key thing with perfectionism is to recognize it is not a black and white issue – as it is neither an all positive or all negative characteristic – rather it has both good and bad parts that need to be identified and understood. This is where good management comes in to separate the good from the bad and channel energies and efforts onto using the good parts. Continue reading “Managing Perfectionism”
I believe that you can’t lead others unless you have a strong sense of who you are and what you stand for. – Denise Morrison
Mission statements come in two main forms in the work place. Firstly the more commonly known company mission statement which outlines the institution’s values and purpose and aims to provide a shared direction and belief system to guide all employees. Then secondly there is in my view the far more powerful and useful personal mission statement where an individual employee outlines their own objectives and commits to achieving them. This mission statement narrows goals down to a personal level with daily relevance. Done well a personal mission statement provides a tangible vision for individuals to improve and to push themselves towards personal excellence. Continue reading “How to help someone write a great mission statement?”
Staff are the most important investors in any company
In Tolkien’s Silmarillion, the prelude to Lord of the Rings, Manwe is the King of the Valar, however it is Melkor (Sauron’s mentor) who is the most powerful among the 8 Gods. Manwe, despite being the weaker in powers, wins the wars they fight due to having the most important power of all, influence over the other Valar. The same can be said about leadership were the most important attribute of a great leader is not being the most powerful or having the most skills, it is rather having the most influence. This prioritizing people is one of the most important attributes of a great leader.
Influence over people is the most important power of any leader.
“We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with”
John Rohn (motivational speaker)
What John Rohm first said relates to the law of averages, which is the theory that the result of any given situation will be the average of all outcomes. When it comes to relationships, we are greatly influenced — whether we like it or not — by those closest to us. It affects our way of thinking, our self-esteem, and our decisions. Of course, everyone is their own person, but research has shown that we’re more affected by our environment than we think. Whilst it’s natural to want to be closely surrounded by similar personalities who are supportive people and want you to succeed, it’s also necessary to have your critics. Average managers may have a preference for just positive feedback, but expert managers want critical feedback too, as via that they get pushed to improve. Continue reading “Why it matters who you spend your time with”
There is no point giving feedback unless you can drive to action – Jo Owen.
Giving feedback is one of the most important skills of man-management. It is a key quadrant II relationship building exercise and an important investment managers make into the emotional bank account of their staff. Done well feedback turns demotivated staff into motivated ones and provides a success formula for your staff to develop from. However giving great feedback is difficult and few managers push themselves to learn the needed techniques but they should.
Effective feedback forms an integral part of each staff member’s professional development success formula.