Leadership Behaviors: Decisions or Automatic Habits?

How much of what you do and say is based on carefully-thought out decisions? And how much of what you do and say is automatic, based on routines and habits? Take a guess: 80%-20%? 20%-80%?

Your boss says one thing, you respond in your habitual way, he counters in his way, and you both end up with pretty much the same opinions and goals for next steps. Or, imagine a conversation with your spouse or children. No where does it become more obvious that we’re creatures of habit than with our family members. The dance goes on, repeating itself with rarely anyone changing their expected steps.

One study published in 2006 at Duke University found that more than 40 percent of the actions people perform each day weren’t based on actual decisions, but on routines. From Aristotle to Oprah, people wonder why habits exist, how they are formed, and how we can change them.

Especially now with brain imaging, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists and marketers are finally beginning to understand how habits work, and more importantly, how we can change them for the better.

As someone who’s lost considerable weight over the last few years, I continually work on changing my health habits. I work with a health coach because I know how hard it is to change on my own. It’s tough. But you probably know that too.

I also have learned during this process of change, that once I started changing my health habits, a whole slew of other habits improved along with it. For me, my health is a keystone habit, one that has a trickle down effect on other behaviors and my overall effectiveness in the work I do.

Some people succeed at making changes, others slip and slide, never really making significant progress. It’s not just luck or personality, or willpower. Today, they’ve discovered a few things about habits. One of the best books on the subject is written by New York Times award-winning journalist Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change It (2012).

It’s full of good stories about amazing people who succeeded and who also failed dramatically at changing their habits. There are lessons for everyone in this book.

Even corporations have habits, which is why change initiatives are so difficult to achieve. I believe that all leaders, to be effective, should study routines and habits if they set out to be truly influential and get people on board.  I’ll share more about what I’m learning from this book in future posts. Get it, read it, learn it. You’ll enjoy it.

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