Creating Habits, Establishing Accountability, Building Leaders


A leader is someone that possesses an inherent set of personal virtues (habits), and with these virtues, can guide an organization effectively and successfully. Stephen Covey talks about those habits that make for better leaders in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Others like Blanchard, Peters, Ulrich and Conger address this issue as well. What Covey and others do not address is how to hold these leaders accountable for learning the proper habits so they can become those great leaders everyone writes about.

Leadership habits, like any other habit, must be learned. We aren’t born with the habits of a great leader.  We learn them. Few of us know how to pitch a fastball, brush our teeth or play an instrument the first time we try.  Through repetition, education and practice we learn to do these things until they become instinctual habits.

Psychological circles would call them behavioral habits. The general consensus is that for simple tasks it takes 21-30 days to become a permanent habit. More complex tasks, obviously take longer. A newly-minted manager, with a new title and responsibilities, isn’t automatically going to be a good leader. They will need to grow into the role and with guidance, can become a successful leader of their team.

Too often managers are thrust into their new roles with little training, coaching, feedback, or accountability for developing leadership skills until the day of the performance review, which oftentimes leaves the new manager in a state of surprise and shock.  This annual look at what has occurred over the previous twelve months is woefully inadequate when it comes to helping them become better leaders.

Although every leader’s situation is different, there are some universal habits that should be established. Work Effects likes to call them BASICTM virtues. If these are practiced by a leader, and in-turn are supported by the culture of the organization, a leader will thrive:

Beneficial Partnerships is the leader's capacity to foster collaborative relationships. To collaborate is to "co-labor" and work in an interdependent fashion to achieve common ends.

Aligned Emotions is the leader's emotional maturity including knowing one's passions, wants and needs, and the emotional states of followers.

Sustained Determination is the inner strength to initiate action in the face of obstacles, not shrink in the face of resistance, and to sustain momentum in the face of adversity.

Intellectual Flexibility is the capacity to see and adapt to the world accurately with the help of others.

Character is one's moral integrity, which is the inner strength to live in accordance with high moral standards.

To ensure the new manager is learning these new habits, they must be held accountable for developing them. This could be done by tying this accountability to compensation or meeting certain milestones. It could also be based on how well the new manager is rated by their peers or direct reports. The approach needed differs within each organization and should reflect the culture, maturity, and contextual realities of each.

Instead of the dreaded annual performance review, what an organization should do soon after the new manager begins in a role is to establish the expectations for quality leadership habits by illustrating the specific behaviors a leader should possess within the organization.  After establishing these expectations, the organization needs to provide the ongoing support and feedback to help guide their development of these leadership habits, not simply sending them to a 3 day training class and then “presto” they are transformed.

As we all know one can’t change or manage what can’t be measured, so we suggest that once the leadership expectations have been set, a series of measures should be used to clearly identify and track a manager’s progress.  These steps aid in crystalizing a manager’s specific actions and also provide accountability to the implementation of those actions.  These could include multi-rater assessments (Revolution 360s), coaching, training and follow-ups (Check-Up 360s).

By using this portfolio of assessments and supporting resources, an organization can build the type of leaders that will fit well into its culture and help it meet business objectives.  Better leaders are more motivated, have better insight and are willing to be held accountable for their development and performance. As a better leader, they in turn can become coaches, trainers and mentors in their own right by demonstrating their habits and passing on their knowledge to others.

By tying accountability to building better habits through BASIC virtues, it ultimately helps the organization meet its business objectives through better leadership.

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