Three Ways to Behave Yourself to Better Leadership

Posted 12.06.2012

The late Stephen Covey was fond of saying, “You can’t talk yourself out of a problem you behaved yourself into.” He definitely had a way with a phrase.

I’ve been thinking about Covey’s line lately because I’ve been teaching leadership coaching to students at Georgetown and to executives in a few different companies in the past month. One of the things we’ve been talking about is establishing behavioral practices that lead to more effective leadership.

A behavioral practice is something you commit to doing on a regular basis that, if adopted as a habit, would make you a better leader. A simple example would be recruiting colleagues to give you a signal when you’re interrupting people in conversation. If they play and you follow through by cutting down on interrupting when they give you the signal, you’ll become a better listener. That, in turn, will help you to be a more effective leader.

Want to give behavioral practices a try? Here are three ways to put them into practice and, in the process, behave your way to better leadership:

  1. Pick something that’s easy to do and likely to make a difference. Don’t overcomplicate things. Look for behaviors that are relatively easy to do and remember and likely to make a difference in how others experience you as a leader. For example, it could be start every meeting with a review of the objectives. Is that relatively easy to do and remember? Yes. Would it make a difference to personal and team effectiveness? Most definitely. What are the candidates on your list of easy to do and likely to make a difference?
  2. Get your colleagues involved. If you’re a leader, you’re working in a system full of other people. It doesn’t make much sense to work on behavioral practices in secret. After all, if others can’t see or don’t notice what you’re doing, what difference will it actually make? Get your colleagues involved by asking them to help you follow through and give you feedback on what you’re doing and the difference it’s making.
  3. Remember that less is more. When you start thinking through the opportunities, you might identify a whole list of behavioral practices you want to take on at once. Don’t go there. You’ll make a lot more progress by going deep on one or two new behaviors than by trying to spread your time and attention across five or six practices. If you want, keep a list of things to get to later, but sequence the work.

What’s worked or working for you when it comes to building habits to improve your leadership?