Habits are the key to great leadership

One of the books I frequently recommend to my executive coaching clients is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s as relevant now as it was on publication thirty years ago. I think Mr. Covey hit the nail on the head when he identified that good habits are the cornerstone of success.

Building the right habits can be an absolute game-changer for leaders. With the right habits in place, you’ll see increased productivity and success in most areas of your life.

Read on to find out how to build habits that boost your leadership practice.

If you’re ready to take the next step and explore further, book in a coaching call with me.

The incredible power of habits

A habit is basically a consistent and regular behaviour. They can be ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ or neutral. They’re something we rarely think about, and often we complete these behaviours almost on auto-pilot.

Hands up if you’ve ever had that panic where you’ve left the house and now can’t remember if you locked your front door? Or if you turned off the iron? Most of the time, you’ll return home to find that you did lock the door and unplug the iron.

The reason you don’t remember is that it’s a habit. You complete these habitual actions almost on auto-pilot.

These examples are very small habits. They take minimal time, and they’re easy to form because they’re basically essential tasks that we need to do.

We can create almost any habit that we want given enough time and consistency. Click To Tweet

Creating the right habits sets you up for success. For example, creating a habit of daily exercise will almost certainly improve your fitness levels and reduce your stress. To make it a habit you have to commit to completing it regularly and consistently. No excuses, just action. Eventually, it becomes something you do daily and that you make time for, instead of something you’re just ‘trying to fit in’ to your day.

How do you form a habit?

Forming a habit isn’t always easy.  At least, forming ‘good’ habits isn’t easy. Ever wondered then, why it’s so easy to form habits like smoking or eating fatty, sugary foods?

The main reason is dopamine – a neurotransmitter chemical closely linked with our brain’s reward system. Dopamine makes us feel good, at least briefly, which is why we tend to want to repeat actions that trigger the release of dopamine. Unfortunately, most of them are bad for us.

Good habits like exercising don’t give the same kind of immediate gratification, although the long-term benefits are undoubtedly more valuable. Therefore, we’re less likely to form good habits without some effort.

The key to habit formation is repetition. Click To Tweet

Repeat a behaviour enough times, and it becomes a habit. But how many times? It’s commonly said that it takes 21 days to form a habit. However, one study has suggested that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a habit to form.

The average is 66 days, so it’s a reasonable expectation that it will take at least two months of consistency to build a habit.

Meaning that you’re going to need a good dose of motivation and self-discipline to get you through the habit-forming stage. Once you build the habit, it will become much easier to maintain it.

During this habit-forming stage, it’s essential that you stick to your plan. Of course, some things are out of your control, but you owe it to yourself to come up with creative solutions and not give in.


Tapping into triggers is a great way to form a lasting habit. Triggers can be anything – another habit, a place, even an emotion. For example, feeling stressed might trigger a bad habit like smoking. To build a good habit, find a trigger and attach the habit to it.

The more often something triggers an action, the more and more ingrained it becomes as a habit until it’s pretty much just an automatic response. For example, you might make sitting down at your desk the trigger to plan and prioritise your day.

To make the most of triggers, write down your regular routine – the things you do every day without fail. Look for things that you already do consistently without any conscious effort and that you can’t easily avoid. Then, identify which of these regular actions would make a good trigger for the habit you want to form.

Once you have a list of potential triggers, choose one that is the best fit for the habit you want to create. If your new habit is to reflect daily, you might choose shutting down your laptop or computer as the trigger to ensure that you reflect daily before leaving the office.

A couple of habits to start with

It’s important not to overdo it and try to create several new habits all at once. It’s almost certain to result in you failing to implement them all. Instead, choose one habit at a time to introduce. Once it’s become a true habit, you can move on to introducing other habits. Slow and steady is the best way to build long-term and sustainable change.

You may already have some habits in mind that you’d like to start with, but here are a few habits that are frequently associated with successful leaders:

Waking up early

This isn’t for everyone, but lots of successful leaders cite waking as early as 5am as a regular habit.

There are plenty of positives to being an early riser. Getting up before the rest of your family can give you time in peace and quiet before starting your day. It’s a great time for exercise, meditation or reading. It’s also a good time to get ahead of the day in terms of work or household jobs.

Even if you just spend the time relaxing and drinking your coffee, getting up early means that you’re more awake and alert by the time you reach the office.

The downside to waking early is that it doesn’t always fit in with everybody’s lifestyle. For example, if you work a certain shift pattern, or have young children whose sleep patterns are unpredictable at best then early rising might not be for you.

Of course, you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to gain some of the benefits. Many top CEOs and entrepreneurs cite 5am or earlier as their preferred time to get up! If that’s a step too far, simply rising an hour earlier than usual will give you some extra time to start your day off right.

Disconnecting from social media

Checking your social media during working hours can really mess with your productivity. It forces your brain to switch focus, and even if it’s just for a minute you’ll find it difficult to quickly get back on track with your tasks.

Even if social media habit is a strictly personal time habit for you, it’s time you could be spending connecting in real life and relaxing with your family. Plus, too much screen time in the hours before bed can disturb your sleeping patterns. This can leave you tired and less productive the next day.

Not everyone checks social media too much but an increasing number of people do, especially if you include LinkedIn. If you’re someone who checks social media too frequently then try making a habit of disconnecting regularly.

Aim to avoid checking social media as soon as you wake up, during your working hours, and for a couple of hours before bed. If you use public transport, you could designate your commute time as social media time, use your lunch break, or allocate some social media time in the early evening. Once per day is usually enough to catch up with friends online.

These are just two suggestions, but you can build a habit of almost anything you want. It just takes a little time and self-discipline to allow the habit to form.

Are you ready to build good habits and start feeling the confidence, focus, and energy that’s been lacking for you at work?

I regularly help my executive coaching clients to build good habits and to develop the focus, confidence, and resilience to grow as a leader. With nearly 20 years’ experience supporting senior leaders, clinicians, and business owners to excel in their roles, I can help you build good habits.

If you’d like to learn more about coaching and want to take the next step why not book a free discovery call today? It’s a no-obligation discussion to find out how I can help you worry less and achieve more.

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You can’t be a great leader, if you’re not a great you.

Andrea helps you focus on leading yourself first, so you can be a great leader. Start getting your regular dose of leadership tips and inspiration with the ‘Leadership Breather’ – encouraging you to give yourself a breather and take 5 minutes for you.

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