LEADERSHIP HABIT-BUILDING EXPLAINED

How leadership habit-building helps leaders design and implement changes in their leadership behavior

JUNE 8, 2022 | BRENDA VAN CAMP

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In this 3-part blog series, “Leadership habit-building explained,” we explore and discuss the design practices, tools, and strategies that leadership habit-building uses to help leaders turn what they learn into lasting new leadership habits.

One often-heard complaint is that traditional leadership programs focus too much on knowledge transfer and not enough on translating that knowledge into actionable behaviors and enabling participants to implement the new desired behaviors.

Leadership habit-building uses several strategies to address this shortcoming of traditional leadership development. Below we will discuss the following three leadership habit-building strategies:

  1. Make it actionable
  2. Make it incremental
  3. Anticipate implementation moments

Table of Contents

Make it actionable. Get specific.

A common mistake that undermines the effectiveness of leadership training is that instructors often focus their teaching on the benefits of critical leadership behavior but fail to explain the necessary micro-actions that make up that behavior. For example, they may explain and preach the importance of leading and acting with integrity. But what does that look like on a day-to-day basis? What does it mean a leader should and shouldn’t do? To address this, leadership habit-building focuses on making things actionable by using learning tools that help leaders deeply explore and understand key leadership behaviors in detail. For example, when we teach participants about leading with integrity as part of our Essential Leadership Habits program, we first guide participating leaders to translate their espoused values into concrete leadership behaviors – i.e., we help them design what it means to walk their talk. And then, we help them evaluate to what extent that differs from how they are currently showing up daily as a leader. In addition, we also guide them through a series of exercises to help them identify small acts that unwittingly undermine their integrity as a leader. In short, leadership habit-building is not about passively listening to an instructor who tells a group of participating leaders how they should behave. Instead, leadership habit-building is about active learning. It prompts participating leaders to actively explore, define, and design in detail the leadership behaviors they need to adopt to improve their leadership effectiveness.
“A common mistake that undermines the effectiveness of leadership training is that instructors often focus their teaching on the benefits of critical leadership behavior but fail to explain the necessary micro-actions that make up that behavior.”

Make it incremental. Leverage the power of small wins.

Most leaders are ambitious and want to get better fast. However, sustaining a significant behavior change is challenging. So leaders who want to overhaul their leadership behavior in one fell swoop are bound to fail because it requires too much conscious effort on top of their already challenging workload. For that reason, leadership habit-building takes an incremental approach to implementing leadership behavior change. So instead of encouraging leaders to take massive action to implement their desired new leadership behavior, leadership habit-building asks leaders to identify and commit to small inspired steps they can take to start moving in the direction of their desired behavior. And because the scale of the effort required to stick with the first incremental change is relatively small, leaders are more likely to stick with it and succeed in achieving that initial change. Furthermore, the positive energy and feedback generated by the initial win encourage leaders to keep going and take their change a step further with the next inspired action.
“Leadership habit-building asks leaders to identify and commit to small inspired steps they can take to start moving in the direction of their desired behavior.”

Anticipate critical implementation moments.

Lastly, to help leaders ready themselves to implement a desired new behavior, leadership habit-building leverages visualization to help them anticipate the situations when they will need to implement it. Neuroscientific research has proven that visualizing these circumstances activates and strengthens the very neural circuits that a leader will need to recruit when it is time to perform the new leadership behavior. So our visualization exercises prime participating leaders mentally and emotionally to spot those moments, events, or situations as and when they happen and then to implement the new desired behavior.

Failing to recognize those moments, events, or situations, leaders are more prone to be surprised and, as a result, respond with a knee-jerk reaction and fall back into their old ways.

“To help leaders ready themselves to implement a desired new behavior, leadership habit-building leverages visualization to help them anticipate the situations when they will need to implement it.”

In conclusion

Leadership habit-building takes a very active and actionable approach to leadership development. It helps leaders get very clear and precise about what they have to do to change and provides them with tools and strategies to help them successfully implement the desired new behavior(s).

To learn how to use leadership habit-building tools and strategies to turbo-charge the effectiveness of your leadership development programs, check out our next Leadership Habit-Building Masterclass for L&D leaders.

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