Creating a new behavior or changing a negative behavior that has been ingrained in you for years – maybe decades – can seem insurmountable. But shedding old habits for better ones is worth the effort and is an important step to becoming an effective leader in your organization. What habits are particularly critical for women in leadership roles?
Dr. Betty Vandenbosch, an award-winning leader at Purdue University Global, notes that while some skills which help women progress may seem basic, practicing them on a daily basis until they become a habit is a discipline that is key to success.
Here are some of her tips that you can start practicing now:
Practice sticking to your guns, even if there is resistance. Get comfortable with not giving up.
be intentional in everything you do, every day, like starting and ending meetings on time, or soliciting feedback on a regular basis. Remember that as a leader, everyone is watching and your actions form your reputation.
Engage those nurturing, mentoring skills and delegate or share responsibilities with associates. Find ways to empower others.
Repeat your message often, as repetition is what makes the message stick. This is especially important when you are trying to change a norm on your team or establish a vision for the future. It may take 6 – 7 repetitions before people pay attention.
the best leaders make a habit of listening, and most women are naturally good at this. Being open to learning from everyone, regardless of level, ensures that you are getting the most from your team. It is also just as important to discover what a team member isn’t saying in order to understand the resistance you may be facing.
Dr. Vandenbosch notes that maintaining a degree of inner peace will help you lead “without the ego taking over.” A mindfulness practice also helps keep emotions in check when making decisions.
There are conflicting theories on exactly how long it really takes to form a habit. The rule of thumb for decades has been 21 – 30 days, but new research indicates that habits can take much longer to stick. What determines the length of time is the nature of the individual as well as factors such as complexity (i.e. it is much easier to create a new habit like drinking water than it is to take up running), frequency, and how easily the new habit will fit into your routine. This means that, in reality, forming a new habit can take anywhere from 18 days to eight months.
For women, new leadership habits may not come easily because of how they were raised or the expectations of girls as they grew. Leslie Grossman, a speaker on leadership, believes that for women to truly achieve their potential, they must shed old labels of how they should act in the workplace. Instead of acting like a “good girl” as they were taught in school, it’s important to adjust to habits that align better with successful leadership. That might mean checking some politeness and patience at the door. Initially, these new behaviors may feel uncomfortable, but they are necessary if you want to earn others’ respect.
Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, sums up the steps necessary for changing habits with this advice: deconstruct the habit into three parts: trigger, response and reward (called the habit loop). When these have been identified you can start to change the response to the trigger, and get a bigger reward from the new action you have taken. Here’s an example of how it would work if you are trying to instill a habit of speaking up for yourself:
Trigger: You repeatedly get interrupted in a meeting by a male colleague.
Response (Old Habit): You vent to a woman colleague after the meeting.
Reward (Old Habit): You get empathy and reinforcement that the guy is a jerk.
Now, change this into a better, more positive habit and it looks like this:
Trigger: You get interrupted in a meeting by a male colleague
Response (New Habit): You talk to the colleague after the meeting and ask him to let you finish before stating his opinion.
Reward (New Habit): The interrupting stops and you are proud of yourself for addressing the situation.
Over time, practicing this new habit loop becomes easier as a better, new reward is reinforced.
Given the right tools and training, women have the potential to move mountains and impact the world in a meaningful way by engaging their own, unique voices. New habits can get you there because, as an old quote goes: “thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits become character and character becomes destiny.”
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