The Best Way to Build New Leadership Habits

Why are world-class athletes, composers, writers, and professionals just better than others? The Leader Habit, by best-selling author and CEO of Pinsight Martin Lanik, provides the answer. A different kind of practice is the name of the game. 

Before I go into what I love about this book, however, I need to say that I read a lot of books about leadership. Most are unoriginal at best, or altogether useless at worst. And then, every now and again, I read one that I mark up, tab, underline and keep on my desk for years and years. The Leader Habit is already marked up and going to be one that I turn back to for many years to come. It's a treasure trove of leadership effectiveness research and practical advice for developing new leadership habits.

Here are three things that I love MOST about The Leader Habit, and one question that I am left with after reading it. 

First, the things that I love. Martin and his team at Pinsight have done their homework. This team has conducted original research to inform this book. These days there are way too many opinions and "celebrity turned leadership guru" books out there. They all say the same thing. But not The Leader Habit.

The Leader Habit provides compelling psychological evidence for why forming better habits is the BEST WAY to improve your leadership effectiveness. Martin provides a simple evidence-based formula around the concept of "automaticity" that is based on a cue-behavior-reward principle.

According to Dr. Lanik, "it doesn't matter whether you begin the habit cycle with the cue-behavior pairing or the behavior-reward pairing. The important thing to remember is that both a cue and reward need to be present for a behavior to turn into a habit" (p. 26). 

The second thing I love about The Leader Habit is that it makes forming good leadership habits practical and achievable. How many good habits do you have? Really, how many good one's--be honest with yourself! Do you eat five servings of vegetables everyday? Do you get at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise everyday? I don't...I try to do these things but forming good habits is hard work.

Dr. Lanik's book teaches us that forming good habits requires deliberate practice and, in order to stick, deliberate practice must be easy! What's more, The Leader Habit provides a step-by-step guide for putting your leadership workout together. 

The third thing that I love most about Dr. Lanik's book is the  catalogue of core leadership skills that the Pinsight research team identified. There are 22 skills and 79 micro-behaviors that leaders need to practice to master that skill. Each skill includes: 

1. A definition of the skill and the supporting micro-behaviors; 

2. A brief description of why the skill is important; 

3. A list of telltale signs that you'd benefit from prove this skill; 

4. A description of the personality traits most aligned with this skill (i.e., who will find this skill intrinisically fun to practice); 

5. And, BEST OF ALL, each includes brief 5-minute exercises to help you develop that skill by turning micro-behaviors into habits! 

Finally, as a bonus, the last section of the book provides strategies for motivating and coaching others around these skills to help them develop effective leadership habits. 

After reading the book, however, I am left with one question: what role does accountability play in forming new habits? Lanik argues that "motivation is key" when it comes to forming new habits. But sometimes we have to form habits or hold others accountable for forming habits when they may not want to or like to form those habits. I suppose this question still leaves the age old question are the best leaders built or made a mystery. And, for now, I'm going to enjoy flipping back through the leadership behaviors that will make the biggest difference for me and my team. 

Thanks to Dr. Lanik and the Pinsight team for this truly valuable resource. I think every leader needs to buy three copies of this book: one for themselves, one for their successor, and one for a peer who could benefit from some new leadership habits. 

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Chris Groscurth, Ph.D.

Chris Groscurth, Ph.D., is author of Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For the past 20 years he has worked as a researcher and strategic advisor to leaders across healthcare, finance, manufacturing, government and education. In addition to his consulting work, Chris addresses thousands of leaders annually through speaking engagements and workshops. Throughout his career, he has held leadership positions with Gallup, the University of Michigan, and Trinity Health. Chris currently leads Stryker's global learning design and development team, shaping the future of leadership in a high-growth medical technology company. Chris received his doctorate in human communication processes from the University of Georgia and has bachelor's and master's degrees in human communication studies from Western Michigan University.

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