Since leaving my position as a school principal I’ve had time to reflect on the habits I had as a leader, especially the ones that I would change if I went back into a similar role! It’s been refreshing also to look at the landscape outside of education and observe habits demonstrated by leaders in other organisations.
Habits are important when leading however they need a purpose or there is a risk they will start impacting on you or the organisation you are leading in a negative way. The purpose of this article is to outline some habits to avoid based on my past experience.
Practice what you preach
Managing the health and welfare of your team is a critical dimension to any leadership role. We spend time ‘checking in’ with our people, helping them to navigate tricky situations that life and work can throw at you from time to time, ensuring they maintain a healthy work/life balance, ensuring they take a break from work and use their leave however we often do not apply the same rigour to managing ourselves or seeking support.
One pressure I constantly placed on myself to my detriment was that feeling I had to be at work at a certain time every day, that I had to work across the weekend to catch up. These were not healthy productive habits and the reality was, having quality breaks and allowing myself to approach my day differently at times would have added value to my output and my energy levels.
The first to speak
Leaders can get into the habit of responding quickly especially during conversations and discussions. The wisest leaders I have worked alongside over the years have often been the best listeners and often the last to comment during conversations and discussions. They take their time to speak and listen intently to what their employees or colleagues are saying before providing their thoughts and comments. You are not going to lose any credibility in your organisation by not being the first to speak!
The need to demonstrate you are a subject matter expert
It is impossible to presume that a leader should know everything within an organisation. Leaders don’t know everything but they instead surround themselves with great people who can bring their expertise in and advise. It can also place a great deal of unnecessary pressure on leaders who try to be subject matter experts about everything, a trap many new leaders fall into as they navigate through establishing credibility in their role and within their team and even sometimes to colleagues. I learnt very early on in my career that surrounding myself with a great team and an understanding that leaders don’t always have all the answers, created a work environment where we could all contribute and learn from each other.
As leaders there are always going to be members of our team that we connect with better than others – that’s human nature. However one of our responsibilities is to ensure the culture within our organisation focuses on equality. This means we need to treat every employee the same and there is no favouritism. This often comes down to habits such as the time you speak to some people rather than others. These are things you will be judged on and remembered by.
Stopping for breaks
One of the major regrets from my previous role was working through breaks. Sometimes this was a necessity, but it quickly became a habit and on reflection what I did, was miss a great opportunity to connect less formally with my team and my wider organisation. Catching up over a break is a wonderful way to check in with your people and engage on a more personal level. You demonstrate a true interest in them as a person and not simply an employee. You may learn something about them you didn’t know or you may learn something about yourself or what’s happening in your organisation through ‘chat’. Getting into the habit of not taking breaks is also not demonstrating the importance of downtime and your people may start copying what you do! Breaks of course also ensure you get time to eat to rejuvenate your energy levels. Eating your lunch at 4pm is not OK!
After reading this article hopefully, you will be inspired to review some of your daily habits and identify ways you can enrich your own working experience and those of the people around you. Small symbols and actions can have far-reaching outcomes and remember, changing habits takes commitment and hard work, however, it’s certainly worth it.
As Steven Covey reminds us:
“If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting”