The 7 Habits of Highly Effective...
I had the opportunity to listen to a few accomplished leaders talk about the power of habits and how simple habits they practice prepare them to handle the chaos that hits them as their workday begins. Most of them talked about working out first thing in the morning, some talked about sitting by themselves at the break of dawn and even watering their plants. These are habits they have practiced for years and it helps prepare them mentally and physically for the day.
Habits are hard to change but they can be replaced. A habit is formed by a trigger which leads to a routine and eventually our brain learns to reward us for this habit. To replace a habit, we need to keep the old trigger, deliver the old reward but insert a new routine.
So, what are the habits we should imbibe in order to succeed?
One of the greatest self-development books of all time is “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. These seven habits sound very self-explanatory and elementary, but they can be applied to anyone in any profession. This book is about the untouchable part of your human spirit that no one besides you controls. It’s about carrying sunny weather with you wherever you go, learning that demonstrating a proactive attitude benefits you, and really how sad and wasteful it is to walk through life allowing things to ruin your day. Things don't ruin your day. YOU ruin your day.
Remember the equation: Events + Reaction = Outcome. You are always in control of the outcome depending on how you react to it.
Below is my take on how these principles laid out by Mr. Covey apply to Leaders:
Habit #1 – Be Proactive
I have always believed in “if it ain’t broken, make it stronger and look for better ways.” Being proactive about problems you need to solve and challenges you need to anticipate will always put you ahead of the situation. Changes can be in the marketplace, customer buying behavior, shifting industry trends, and needs of the team. Your success will depend on how quickly you are able to embrace change, adapt to it and most importantly create it.
As Alvin Toffler said, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
Habit #2 – Begin with the end in mind
According to several writers, the four key roles that leaders play are inspire trust, create vision, execute strategy, and build other leaders. Creating vision and strategy to execute the vision are key tenets of being a leader. A leader staying focused on the desired future, desired results and not get wavered by “shiny objects” are critical to success. Being disciplined, focusing on what matters, and saying no to the rest.
The vision a leader creates, and shares serves as a North Star that moves everyone on the team in the right direction. The world is always changing, and we may not have a perfect set of plans, but we do have a North Star that guides us and keeps us moving forward.
Habit #3 – Put first things first
No matter how well you plan your week or day, it’s bound to get inundated with urgent things or “flavor of the season” action items that pop up. All our tasks can be categorized in four quadrants of Important/Urgent, Important/Not Urgent, Not Important/Urgent, Not
Important/Not Urgent. We tend to focus on urgent matters first irrespective of them being important or not. With the way our day is structured, we seldom get to the important and not urgent tasks and measures that we must take to manifest our vision.
We need to think and correct ourselves before any action – are we focused on the important tasks and not just the urgent ones? If we do that, we will find ourselves closer to executing on our vision.
Habit #4 – Think Win/Win
I am sure you have heard the phrase “Leadership is about Influence.” A leader often finds themselves solving problems for their team that crosses over to other teams too. It is critical for the leader to understand how this helps the entire organization and not just their own purpose. When negotiating with others, don’t try to get the biggest slice of the cake, but rather find a division that is acceptable and beneficial to all. You will still get your fair share and build strong positive relationships in the process.
I often talk about the concept of “fixing the noise.” If you are in a room with others and you hear ambient noise that’s bothering you, the chances are it’s bothering others too who are too engrossed to solve for it. If you take the initiative and solve a common problem, then it’s a win/win for everyone.
Habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood
Sincere and reflective listening are key attributes of a leader.
There are several guides out there to determine your “communication type.” Follow one to understand yourself, then understand others and how they want to be communicated with. This will help you in determining the best way to communicate with different people and you will find yourself collaborating more and explaining less.
The most important thing you can do is listen to your team. It gives you full access to diversity of ideas, challenges, and potential solutions that you may not have been able to come up with on your own. On an interpersonal level, this helps in strengthening relationships, improving morale, and improving teamwork.
If you listen to your team, you will find yourself making better decisions and have the support of your team to execute it.
Habit #6 – Synergize
Synergy is the combined action that takes place when people/teams execute towards a shared goal. No leader can be successful on their own and it is imperative they build strong bonds and authentic relationships across the team and organization to be successful.
Team synergy is dependent on common goals, values and complementary skills. The leader defines these goals and values and builds a diverse team to promote new ideas, and collaboration.
Often times I find that great ideas which require multiple teams to work together to execute never see the light of day. One of the key reasons for that is the originator of the idea proposed the solution to the other team highlighting the win for them. Instead, if they had found a shared goal/common ground the result would have been very different.
Habit #7 – Sharpening the Saw
I read about the 5-hour rule a couple of years ago and how successful people like Warren Buffett, Barack Obama, Elon Musk and others spend at least five hours a week in honing their skills. This could include reading, practicing their skills or watching tutorial videos. This
is not easy and requires discipline until it becomes a habit.
I believe in the concept of 1% improvement every day. Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty‐seven times better. Conversely, if you get 1% worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. How are you going to focus on improving 1% every day?
Most of the leaders also find time to exercise, meditate and eat healthy. Other than the obvious benefits of working out it allows you time to plan your day, think, break bad habits, stay competitive, and it builds your body and mind into a sharper tool, and feeling that does wonders for your self-esteem.
The results of adapting these habits and making them a part of your routine may not occur in the first few weeks or months but with regular application it will help you become the best version of yourself in the long run.
What are some of your habits that have made you successful or some habits you want to kick?
Vikram Gupta, CISSP is currently Senior Director – Web Americas and LATAM Pre-Sales @ Akamai Technologies.
Connect with Vikram on LinkedIn.