I’ve been working with leaders for almost… a very long time. And in this blog, I’ve distilled down the “secret leadership habits” that define the best leaders I have ever met.
Before you jump into the 14 Habits, I want to ask you: Why do you want to be a more effective leader?
Your answer will be very personal to you. But I will tell you this: the best leaders have an answer.
I’m sure you’re asking, are these really secrets?
14 Secret Leadership Habits To Make You A More Effective Leader
Not really, because they’re in plain view. But since most people don’t follow these leadership habits, they might as well be state secrets.
So, what are these secret habits then?
HABIT #1: The best leaders are students of human behaviour.
They notice what people do. The best leaders read about human behaviour. They study human behaviour and pay attention.
They read books, not just about leadership, but also influence, communication and all manner of things about how the human brain works and why we behave the way we behave; because as leaders, we are leading humans.
HABIT #2: The best leaders are students of their behaviour.
They try to understand why they do what they do, when they do it, how they do it and what triggers them.
HABIT #3: The best leaders are students of organizational behaviour.
They are students of how teams work, of how large and small organizations interact and work; they study and understand the culture of organizations and what creates it and what it is and how it works. Because they are leading inside an organization, they understand the importance of continually studying and learning about organizational behaviour.
Speaking of organizational culture, here’s how to stop a work culture of harassment.
HABIT #4: The best leaders are students of communication.
When is the best way to communicate? How is the best way to communicate? Why do we communicate? They realize in the end, it’s not just about what they say, but how their message gets received. It doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes – quite the opposite. However, by being a student of communication, they’re continually getting better.
You’ll notice the first four leadership habits all use the word ‘student,’ so all those habits in effect are about the learning that leads us to skills.
HABIT #5: The best leaders are observant.
Being a student of your behaviour requires you to be self-aware, and being a student of organizational behaviour requires you to be observant. And it’s all about noticing what’s going on around you.
HABIT #6: The best leaders are self-aware.
They know about themselves; they know what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are. They are honest enough with themselves to be aware and to work on strengthening their strengths and minimizing the effects of their weaknesses.
(While you’re here, don’t miss 5 Leadership Actions That Will Drive A 7% Increase in Profit – And Who Doesn’t Want More Profit?)
HABIT #7: The very best leaders are extraordinarily reflective.
This takes us back to my original question, why do you want to be a more effective leader?
Being reflective is one of the keys to being more effective at anything, to allow us to learn from our experience, and it’s true for the very best leaders.
HABIT #8: The best leaders are proactive.
They act. They don’t sit back and wait.
This doesn’t mean they fly off the handle, but it does mean though that they have a bias for acting. The best leaders are proactive. They know there are things to do and — they are getting them done for themselves, for their teams, for their organization.
HABIT #9: The best leaders are accountable.
They are accountable to themselves.
They realize that for everything that happens, they have some influence on it. And they ask themselves and think about what they need to do to make this better, what part of this belongs to them. They help others be accountable, too, of course, but it all starts with them.
HABIT #10: The best leaders are learners.
They are learners first and foremost through building leadership habits (including the very ones we’ve discussed here). They’re aware of the power of habits, and they recognize doing that is an essential part of how they learn.
They also look for opportunities to learn. They’re looking at the world through the filter of, how can I use this to be a better leader.
And because they know training is an important part of their learning journey, they don’t assume it’s enough, and they don’t wait for someone to offer training.
They know their learning does not equate to how much training they have had. This doesn’t mean they don’t value training; it means they know it’s only part of the puzzle.
They’re willing to invest in themselves, whether that’s time or money. And even if the organization doesn’t initiate it, even if they must negotiate with their boss or organization to get what they want.
HABIT #11: The best leaders are readers.
Reading is a tremendous opportunity to learn (yep, that leadership habit again). Whether reading a blog post, whether reading a book, the best leaders are readers.
HABIT #12: The best leaders seek out feedback.
The best leaders want to know how to improve. They seek out feedback – from their teams and others around them. The reason they improve is they want to improve. And they improve through being open to, seeking out, and listening to feedback.
HABIT #13: The best leaders have high expectations of themselves.
And even if they don’t, they’re working to build them because they realize their belief in themselves and the expectations they place on themselves matter.
HABIT #14: The best leaders have coaches.
The best leaders, the best people at any skill, have a coach. Coaches provide so many things for us, and it doesn’t matter what the experience level or field of expertise – the best want to get better, and that hunger for knowledge drives them to look for a perspective outside of their own. They look to and have coaches.
The bottom line goes back to the question I asked at the beginning of this report: Why do you want to be a more effective leader?
The best leaders have a crystal-clear answer to this, and that clear reason drives everything. Period.
Now you may have thought I would tell you the best leaders were great communicators or have this set of skills or another. But the magic, the opportunity, happens when you combine skills with the habits we’ve reviewed here.
Put these leadership habits to work.
So now we come to the real question of – what should you do with these leadership habits? These secrets?
The first thing you should do is get started. Which of these leadership habits do you need to be practicing but aren’t?
Which one is something you’ve heard feedback from others on or is an area you can improve?
Whatever it is, pick one and act.
Did you like reading about leadership habits? Here are three posts to read next:
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For more help with putting these leadership habits to work, you’ll also want to have a look at my 1-on-1 coaching services.
This article was first published in 2018, but it was updated in 2020 just for you.