Joanne Trotta
Managing Partner & Founder
Leaders Edge Inc.

By Joanne Trotta, Certified Emergenetics® Associate, CEO of Leaders Edge, Inc.

As humans, we love to think we are always in control, and that our decisions are all based on logic, reason and well-developed thought processes. This statement is especially true for leaders, who are constantly choosing, deciding, thinking and planning. In reality, we have less control over our actions and situations than we might think.

Humans are creatures of habit. About 45 percent of reported everyday activities, according to studies, are based on ingrained habits, not conscious decision-making processes.

Think about this for a second – much of the time, you are not thinking or deciding; you are falling back on behaviors based on habits. And those behaviors may or may not be conducive to what you are attempting to accomplish as a leader.

That is why it is so critical to develop solid, grounded and effective leadership habits.

What Is a Habit?

A habit can be defined as an automatic response to a situation or event. They help us preserve the energy we use for mental processing and decision making.

Humans developed habits as automatic responses to different environments and contexts. Without these behaviors, we might not have been able to survive as a species! If humans had to be aware of the countless tiny decisions that we make every day, we would be unable to take effective action.

Think about your morning routine. It sets the tone for how your day progresses, and it’s probably made up of a series of habits. You don’t process every single aspect of getting dressed, making coffee, reading the news or driving to your office. If you had to weigh the pros and cons of every single one of these actions in each moment, you would never get anything done!

Habits free up processing power, eliminating decisions and making mental resources available to use on more important, unique decisions. It is like outsourcing your decision-making to the “Department of Habits.” Then, habits work their automatic magic.

Yes, habits are our friends, and not all habits are good ones. Because they act automatically when they are triggered by a context or environment, unproductive habits can inflict damage if they are not corrected.

What Does This Have to Do with Leadership?

The short answer: Almost everything.

When people talk about effective leadership, they’re really referring to a set of habits that create conditions for success to occur. Ultimately, leadership is less about personality and charisma as it is about the automatic behaviors that leaders lean on day after day.

Effective leaders are good at what they do because they have developed exceptional leadership habits. Ineffective leaders have unproductive habits, and more importantly, they typically do not notice these behaviors, so they never get a chance to correct them.

I believe ineffective leaders can transform. Good leaders can become great ones.

First, it is crucial to be able to notice one’s habits. Self-awareness is a key characteristic of great leadership. It acts as a check on bad habits. Yes, habits are automatic, and self-awareness supersedes their unconscious nature, allowing you to make adjustments that bring your actions more in line with your values.

Self-awareness is a characteristic that can be developed through assessments like the Emergenetics® Profile and mindfulness practices such as meditation. The Emergenetics Profile allows you to understand your preferred ways of Thinking and Behaving, giving insights into your automatic tendencies so you can be more cognizant of when situations may call for you to lean into, or flex out of, these preferences.

Mindfulness builds on the learnings from an assessment, empowering leaders to notice and evaluate their actions in the moment. By providing access to the inner workings of your mind, this practice helps you make adjustments that would not be possible otherwise.

You can learn more about mindfulness by reading my recent blog series, beginning with “Why Is Mindfulness Essential for Leadership?” or consider this resource provided by Emergenetics: “Bring Mindfulness to Your Workplace.”

The Five Essential Leadership Habits

I think it’s important to become familiar with the habits that seem to be common among the world’s best leaders to help you identify behaviors to develop within your own leadership. As you read through this list, ask yourself whether you embody them or have an opportunity to improve.

#1 – Effective Communication

The most effective leaders I have encountered have all been master communicators. Notice that I didn’t say master orators or speakers. The best leaders have developed communication habits centered on the ability to listen. Yes, they certainly know how to talk and inspire people with their words. They also have the habit of closing their mouths and opening their ears when others have things to say. This habit can be difficult to develop, and it is essential.

#2 – Credit Where Credit Is Due

Regularly recognizing the efforts of others is one of the best ways for leaders to strengthen employee engagement. Leaders do not always have the instinct to give credit and positive feedback to their people, so it must be developed into a habit. Leaders have the power to shift the spotlight to others, and they need to learn how to notice when it is focused too brightly on themselves.

#3 – Telling It Like It Is

Effective leaders don’t lie. They tell the truth – to themselves and to others. They know themselves and their people well, and they are unafraid to speak their truth. It’s all about integrity, and integrity is a series of habits and decisions. Self-aware leaders recognize when they are being untrue. The best leaders develop a mindful habit of automatically going to the truth of a given situation.

#4 – Not Knowing It All

Ineffective leaders often get into the habit of assuming they know it all or that they have all the answers. Thankfully, it is possible, with self-awareness, for leaders to develop the habit of being inquisitive and seeking other perspectives. Curious, open leaders recognize the times when they don’t have the answers, and they are unafraid of seeking clarification or proactively asking for input. Understanding your Emergenetics Profile can assist in this process by helping you understand your preferences as well as those of others so you can seek out differing perspectives.

#5 – Seeking Support, When Needed

Leaders have a lot of pride in themselves and what they do, which can sometimes get in the way of asking for help. It does not always feel natural for leaders to ask for assistance when they get stuck or require support. However, the most powerful and effective leaders understand that there is always more to learn. They seek out coaching and inspiration from those who have the wisdom to help them improve. And they make a habit out of asking for support when they recognize that it’s needed to move forward.

Ready to Develop Better Habits for Your Leadership?

The behaviors I listed here can take your leadership to a whole new level, and you have to be ready to change and willing to accept that you can grow your potential and adapt your habits.

What questions do you have about leadership habits? What are your thoughts on the behaviors I’ve listed? What habits have you noticed – and changed – within yourself that have strengthened your leadership?

I would love to hear from you, so please send me an email at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca or fill out the form below!