“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” ~Colin Powell
Based on my own experience coaching leaders, I definitely agree with this sentiment. The best leaders are the ones who have established regular disciplines to ensure they are regularly attending to the right things. If you strive to be a leader who achieves excellence, then incorporate these seven habits into your work life.
1. Take time to personally connect with your team
There’s no doubt about it, most leaders have a lot to do. As a result, when you have a spare moment, it can be tempting to hole up in your office or cubicle, spending all your time attending to work or getting caught up on emails. However, excellent leaders recognize that if they neglect building relationships with their direct reports, they are missing out on an important opportunity to motivate their people by deepening connections.
While you don’t have to attend daily happy hours with your direct reports, you should, at the very least, make time to walk around and chat. Be genuinely interested in your people, and let them get to know you. You might be surprised how much those personal connections with the boss can make a difference in your team’s level of engagement at work.
2. Determine your top 3–5 priorities for the day
When you’re the boss, time can often get away from you. Aside from dealing with your own workload, it’s not uncommon to deal with employee interruptions, impromptu meetings, and unanticipated crises. To increase the odds that you are able to make the most of each day, as soon as you get into the office in the morning, get into the practice of writing down the 3–5 critical tasks that need to get done. It’s a simple habit, but it can keep you focused so that you can better make decisions about what to attend to when (and which requests can be put off until tomorrow). In turn, this could make the difference between a day that’s productive and proactive, versus one that’s spent responding reactively, with balls dropped or activities falling through the cracks.
Being a leader means dealing with the unexpected, and often having more to do than is humanly possibly. As a result, for most people, there’s simply no way that you can get everything done all on your own, while still maintaining your sanity. Excellent leaders make the best use of their resources by assigning activities to their team. If there are critical priorities that you need to attend to yourself, then delegating less important tasks frees up your time to do so. Alternately, if you need to call in the troops to help you to get an urgent matter completed, delegation (and appropriate oversight) can help you to address it more efficiently.
4. Tie up Loose Ends
Excellent leaders are organized and responsive. Therefore, at the end of the day, make it a habit to tie up any loose ends. Begin by ensuring that you have completed the tasks from your morning priorities. Then, run through your emails to make sure that you have responded to all of the ones that need an immediate response. It can also be a good practice to give status updates to ones that might require additional investigation from you (i.e. “I’ll get you that information by Friday).” Although you might know your intentions, others, might misinterpret your delay as unresponsiveness. Finally, file documents and consolidate your task lists. You’ll return to the office the next day organized, and ready to go!
5. Set aside time to be strategic
With all that’s going on in your world, if you’re not careful, most (if not all) of your time can be spent on immediate activities, at the expense of important but non-urgent ones (as Stephen Covey would categorize them). So, it might not be surprising to hear that a common complaint I hear from leaders is that they don’t have time for strategic thought, planning, and considering the big picture. To guard against this, block out time on your calendar to strategize, read up on industry trends, and generally stay abreast of what’s going on in your field.
During this time, you can also periodically think about how things are functioning in your area. For example, reflect on your processes and their potential inefficiencies. Are there any that are there just because things have always been done that way? Likewise, would the addition of any processes help with workflow? You could also reflect on the effectiveness of your meetings. Do they need more structure? Less? Can any be cancelled?
Taking this time will help you to make sure that you’re keeping an eye on the big picture, which will help you to make sure that you’re consistently doing the right things for the right reasons.
6. Communicate positive feedback
For many leaders, this habit comes naturally — they’re great at rewarding and recognizing their team. However, if you’re the sort of leader who tends to focus on what needs to be improved, you might forget to acknowledge your people for a job well done. While you should obviously be reinforcing good work when you see it, if you’ve gotten to Thursday and you realize that you haven’t said a genuine “thank you” or “great work,” then be intentional about looking for opportunities to validate someone. Staff (and most of us, actually) can be very motivated by knowing that their contributions are valued. So, make sure to reinforce them for when they exhibit great performance.
Monthly or Semi-Monthly
7. Hold regular one-on-ones
Holding regular one-on-one meetings with your team members will help you to cultivate your relationships with them, while also giving you a venue for keeping up with their assignments. The frequency of your one-on-ones will depend on a variety of factors such as your number of direct reports, their level of experience, and the nature of your work. If you have a lot of people reporting up to you, then having very frequent meetings would likely be untenable. However, if you have particular people who are new or inexperienced, then you’ll need to check in with them more often.
While most leaders recognize that these sorts of meetings are beneficial for delegating and checking in regarding progress on tasks, don’t forget to also take time to periodically ask about their career goals. With your employees’ aspirations in mind, you can better provide them with coaching, feedback, and projects that will help them to ready themselves for their next career steps. It’s also a good practice to ask for feedback about how you can support them or be a better boss for them. That way, you can gain a deeper understanding of your people, while also making sure that you’re also continuing to meet their needs and grow as a leader.
Try to incorporate these habits as a regular part of your routine. I’m confident you’ll see a positive difference with respect to your team’s efficiency, productivity, and morale. And that, is what leadership excellence is all about.
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