Change your habitual behavior to become a better leader

We all have behavioral blind spots, and uncovering those can help you to see what others see, when they see it, and whether they’re helpful or not in certain circumstances in leading people. Many of the behaviors you exhibit are habits – things you say and do that have been shaped through years in your subconscious.

The ideal situation is that you are awake and aware of your behaviors and the external forces that trigger them. You can then use your self-knowledge to manage yourself and to be more effective. Start here:

Get to know what you don’t know: There are plenty of ways to get feedback, including asking for it, doing a 360, or hiring a coach or consultant to do that for you. That’s the easy part. The hard part is taking it in and doing something with it. If you’re getting balanced feedback, you’ll hear about your behavioral strengths and gaps. It takes a great deal of courage to listen to the latter and be willing to understand that you may have had some blind spots. But it’s the first step in beginning to “know what you don’t know” about yourself.

Notice how you behave in various contexts: Like many leaders, you may need to develop some flexibility in how you show up in all of the different circumstances you’ll encounter. Your feedback may give you some clues, but you will need to pay more attention to knowing the circumstances and individuals that you need to flex your style with. In other words, you can’t act the same way all of the time. You may be more casual around your peers and your direct reports than you are around your boss and upper management. Keep in mind, this flexibility helps you to be better understood and influential – you don’t need to change who you are at a fundamental level.

Learn your triggers: “Triggers” are external stimuli that may cause you to react – favorably or unfavorably. The triggers that cause you to react unfavorably with anger, frustration and impatience can be the most damaging to your ability to lead others. What sets you off? It might be a particular person, a criticism, or a failure to get things done on time and with the quality you expect. These may be some of the times that you need to vigilant because they can and will impact your ability to influence others.

Be open and work hard: Stay open to learning more about your habitual behaviors, both strengths and gaps. This is only the beginning of the hard work you’ll need to do to adjust to new behaviors that will help you to be a better leader. Let others know what you are working on improving, and ask them for their assistance in observing and giving you feedback. It’s hard, but not impossible to change your habitual behaviors.

You might have some ingrained habitual blind spots that are keeping you from being at your best. The good news is that with self-knowledge and diligence, you can trade them in for new, more effective behaviors.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

2 comments on “Change your habitual behavior to become a better leader

  1. Mary Jo, thank you for this post. Very helpful. This is about what I call the “below the waterline” stuff. I note that there is so much comment around at present about the failure of leadership development programs, but very little comment about why. It is my belief that it is because leadership development programs are so focused on what leaders need to DO, rather than what they need to BE, the sort of things you and I are talking about. I’ve shared your post on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter because I think it adds much to the discussion.

  2. Thank you Maree, for sharing this post and also for your insight about the necessity for leaders to learn a way of “being” before “doing” well. So sad that some much time and effort is expended on leadership development programs that aren’t effective because of their focus. Imagine if every leader worked on “being”! I am reminded of the distinction between “training”(which is about doing) and “development” (which is about being).

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