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5 habits of effective leaders in the workplace


Most people recognize a good leader when they see one – especially if they motivate teams to exceed company goals and create a culture of accomplishment. Performance measurements and outcomes aside, are there routines that make someone more likely to be successful? What are the habits of effective leaders?

The world is awash with buzz-worthy tips for creating good habits in one’s personal life, but creating the long-term foundations for success in the office isn’t often as prominent.

What habits do good leaders follow daily that separate them from lesser leaders? How important is each one to your overall career success?

Habits vs. traits

Remember, effective leadership habits are not the same as the traits of a good leader.

While traits are often natural qualities of an individual, habits are usually made with considerable effort. It can require many tries to commit a habit to your daily routine. Only after you’ve become accustomed to doing something regularly can it be considered a habit.

Since it can take discipline, focus and (sometimes) a bit of stretching outside your comfort zone, building healthy work habits should be managed one at a time. Only after you’ve mastered your primary habit, should you then move on to the next one on your list.

Avoid buying into fad-based leadership myths, and start with these five habits of effective leaders that are making a difference in today’s workplaces.

1. Plan the night before

Effective leaders have set goals that are both short-term and long-term. Being organized is an essential part of leading others, but it’s not enough to simply have a plan for tackling the year or even month ahead.

Your weekly calendar may have meetings and must-dos planned, but revisiting the steps to getting these done takes these goals from a plan to a reality.

To make this activity a habit, set aside a block of time to plan and adjust your schedule and goals to set yourself up for success in the morning. Then consistently do it each day. This could mean that you look over your planner for the next day right before you leave the office. Or it might mean planning your upcoming day the night before.

The key is to find time that fits your schedule and stick to it.

Successful leaders also take time out of the week to think about medium- and long-term goals and the steps needed to achieve them.

Doing this while outside of the workplace has benefits, as it is often easier to prioritize to-dos without the constant pull of office demands.

Ask questions that clarify your next week’s goals, such as:

  • On what things do I need to focus?
  • What do I need to accomplish in the week ahead?
  • Is there anything that no longer makes sense to pursue?
  • What additional resources, if any, should I look to procure before the week begins?

Rather than letting the current office situation dictate what’s important, take a moment on the weekend before the workweek begins to analyze what’s of highest priority.

Whether you reflect in a café or while lounging in your home, use this time to set the tone for when you return to the office.

2. Get to work early

There are many anecdotal reasons why coming to work early works, but it’s strategically a good move for leaders who want to own their time and get command of their day before the rest of the workplace comes alive with activity.

Take a few precious minutes to double-check your schedule, fill up that coffee mug and set up your workspace. It has immense psychological benefits.

It also shows those you manage that you take your role as a leader seriously. This time in the morning allows you to check your emails and voice messages to get on top of any developments in your staff, such as sick leave requests or family emergencies.

Some managers use it to approve budget issues, sign off on paperwork and review employee surveys or feedback. The time alone is free from distraction and is perfect for churning through short, menial tasks.

Making a habit out of showing up early is one of the best ways to inspire others to start doing it, as well.

3. Move when possible

Leaders in every industry have touted exercise as a way to live healthier, but its role in the workplace has been more visible in recent years. With the embrace of standing desks, bike desks and corporate gyms, leaders now have permission to incorporate movement into their workday.

Make a habit of parking further from the front door or taking the stairs.

Better yet, hold one-on-ones with your workers while on a walk around the building. Many of the casual discussions we hold in a conference room could easily be done outdoors. Change in environment can boost creativity and innovation. It’s a win-win.

Combine light exercise with business in a productive way to reap the benefits of overcoming a sedentary lifestyle while still hitting your management goals.

4. Tackle the hard projects first

Handle the most challenging tasks early in the day, while patience, focus and energy are at their peak.

Procrastination of the things that are least appealing, on the other hand, can add to stress and preoccupy your attention until they are finally resolved.

Since you already have your day’s to-do list handy and familiar, prioritize those monster projects, and stop carrying them over to the next day – or even week.

Accomplishing these larger tasks first is a habit that rewards leaders. It builds momentum to tackle everything the day will throw at them and creates a culture of wins that others in the organization can see and be inspired to imitate.

This method is also known as “eating the frog” due to the concept that you get the big, ugly things out of the way before handling more pleasant tasks.

5. Learn daily

Good leaders love to learn and make a daily habit of picking up knowledge wherever they can.

Snagging the latest best-selling book or watching a TED Talk are popular and effective ways to add to your knowledge bank. Interpersonal relationships, however, offer a wider range of opportunities and take nothing from the training and development budget.

Gleaning wisdom and skills from your team can be as simple as making sure every stakeholder at the table has a few minutes to add their input. Or, it can also come in the form of mentorships where you aim to get as much from your protégé as they do from you.

Listening, taking notes and asking probing questions of teams gives you practice in empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ) skills (highly valuable traits for leaders). Making a habit of doing this daily also grows your exposure to those new ideas that you can use to solve everyday problems and recognize the future leaders in your business.

Why good leadership really matters

The importance of effective leadership cannot be overemphasized. Costly employee turnover can usually be mitigated by decisions that managers are directly responsible for making.

Whether employees leave over lack of opportunity, conflict with leadership or other interpersonal issues, effective leaders can change the outcome and keep good employees from leaving.

Leadership skills are developed over an entire career, and using the right resources can make all the difference. Download our complimentary e-magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management, and start making those management improvements that matter.