Skill 02 – Achieve Results
The Complete List of Essential Leadership Habits for New Managers, Team Leaders, and Change Agents to Lead with Confidence
Great leaders are able to achieve results.
Achieving results is not about completing our to-do list or producing the most output. It’s about focusing on getting the right things done at the right time.
The habits in this area are all about determining priorities, setting goals, completing projects, and managing our time.
Let’s start ramping-up your personal productivity …
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Habit 5 - Results Focused
Our days are filled with hundreds of activities.
There’s the never-ending emails, countless meetings to attend, a queue of requests requiring a response, multiple projects to work on, to name just a few.
And that’s just the activities at work.
We didn’t even mention the equally extensive list of activities that require our attention in our personal life.
We’ve all had days where we seem to be doing a lot of stuff, but nothing meaningful gets done.
It’s like being stuck on a hamster wheel, expending lots of energy, but not making any real progress.
What’s missing are the results.
Without results, we have no credibility as a leader.
Here are a few examples of activities versus results.
I delivered the presentation.
I got the sale.
I wrote the report.
I completed the project on time and under budget.
I was on the phone all day.
I increased my customer satisfaction rating by 10%.
We had a really busy quarter.
Sales were up 15%.
The team worked really hard.
We achieved our monthly targets.
I did what I was told.
My idea reduced errors by 20%.
I stuck with my diet.
I lost 14 pounds.
I attended the training.
I learned how to communicate effectively.
“Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda from Star Wars
Great leaders focus on results – not activities.
Habit 9 - Two Schools of Productivity
There are two schools of thought when it comes to productivity; Top-Down or Bottom-Up.
The Top-Down approach is to start with purpose and move down the productivity stack …
This approach was introduced in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and explored in-depth with First Things First, both by Stephen Covey.
The Top-Down approach believes that to be productive, we need to define our priorities by connecting with our purpose, determining our roles, and setting goals.
I cover the Top-Down approach in the Walk Your Talk section.
The Bottom-Up approach says that we can’t think about high-level things like purpose, roles, and goals when we are deep in the trenches dealing with the constant noise and demands of the day-to-day.
David Allen argues for the Bottom-Up approach in his book Getting Things Done (or GTD for short).
To learn about the Bottom-Up approach, review the habits in the Optimize Systems section.
To be an effective leader, it’s essential that we understand and develop the best habits of both approaches and create a system that works for us.
[source] The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
[source] First Things First by Stephen Covey
[source] Getting Things Done by David Allen
Habit 25 - The Next Level
My approach to productivity is very similar to that of Gary Keller, which he outlines in “The One Thing.”
Decide on your next level goal, stop doing everything else, and focus all of your energy on achieving that one goal.
I’ve used this approach in a variety of situations, and when I’ve focused all my attention on my next level goal, I’ve achieved tremendous success.
And when I’ve tried to juggle more than one main priority at a time, my progress has stalled.
To help figure out your next level goal you can …
- Start where you are
- Connect with your purpose
- Select an area of mastery
- Set a BHAG
- Choose one goal from a specific role
- Lean into your strengths
- Apply the 80/20 rule
- Walk the path
Once decided, focus 100% of your attention to the achievement of that goal and …
- Review your goal regularly
- Shift your focus to QII
- Create a plan to achieve it
- Remove all distractions
- Spend at least one hour per day working toward it
- Align your team to achieve it
[source] The One Thing by Gary Keller
Habit 26 - Overcome Urgency Addiction
Do you thrive under pressure? Are you running from meeting to meeting? Are you always putting out fires? Do you find that you make excuses to your family saying, “It’s urgent, I’m sure you understand.”
If you answered yes to any of these, perhaps you are suffering from urgency addiction.
Or worse yet, are you an urgency pusher – pushing pressing problems onto others?
A tool that has helped me to move away from urgency addiction toward important long-term priorities is the time management matrix popularized by Stephen Covey.
- Quadrant I (top left) – Important and Urgent – items that require your immediate attention.
- Quadrant II (top right) – Important and Non-urgent – items that do not need your immediate attention but demand you be intentional with your focus.
- Quadrant III (bottom left) – Non-important and Urgent – items that are a result of poor planning and should be minimized or eliminated.
- Quadrant IV (bottom right) – Non-important and non-urgent – items that are time-wasters and should be reduced or eliminated.
The secret to long-term success is to spend the majority of your time in Quadrant II (top right): Important and Non-urgent.
Great leaders should be spending 80% of their time in QII, and by adopting the habits on this list, you will be well on your way.
[source] First Things First by Stephen Covey
Habit 42 - The Focusing Question
To overcome urgency addiction Gary Keller, author of The ONE Thing, has come up with a formula for achieving extraordinary results.
This secret is to ask yourself this deceptively simple question …
“What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
The amazing thing is that this question works with both the top-down and button-up approaches to productivity.
When used with the top-down approach, asking “What’s my ONE thing”, helps you narrow in on your purpose, clarify your priorities, and choose your most important goal.
And when used with the bottom-up approach, asking “What’s my ONE thing right now”, enables your to decide on the best use of your time in the moment.
Your leadership challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to ask yourself the focusing question until you achieve your target of 80% of your time working on QII activities.
To achieve this target, use it in the moment, repeatedly throughout the day, to take control of your time.
And use is daily to connect with your purpose and define your priorities for each day.
[source] The ONE Thing by Gary Keller
Habit 50 - Leverage Your Strengths
Donald O. Clifton
“What would happen if we studied what is right with people?”
This is the fundamental question behind strengths theory, and the one asked by psychologist Donald O. Clifton, the creator of Clifton StrengthsFinder.
Strengths theory proposes that we will be more successful by focusing on what we do well instead of where we are lacking.
1) Why focus on strengths?
If you find that you don’t have the opportunity to do what you do best every day, then your natural talents are going untapped.
The misguided advice (and our default tendency) is to focus on our weaknesses. Don’t fall for it!
You will gain far more when you expend effort developing your natural talents than when you spend a comparable amount of energy to remediate your weaknesses.
2) What are strengths?
In simplest terms, we develop a strength when we invest the time to master our natural skills and abilities (aka talents).
A talent is a natural-occurring pattern of thought, feeling or behaviour that can be productively applied.
We gain mastery of a strength when we have maximized our natural talents.
3) Why can’t I see my natural talents?
It can be a challenge to identify our natural talents on our own.
Because they are naturally-occurring patterns, they are difficult to notice without external feedback.
When I first discovered my talents, I remember saying, “Doesn’t everyone think this way?”
I realized that no, not everyone does.
My talents were very difficult to notice because they were part of who I am.
4) How do I discover my natural talents?
The tool that I use with my clients to help them identify their natural talents is the Clifton StrengthsFinder by the Gallup Organization.
Access to an assessment requires a unique code that can be obtained by purchasing a copy of the book StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.
This assessment will help you identify your top 5 talents from 34 different themes.
In addition, this book will give you several tips to help you understand and apply your natural talents.
5) How do I turn my talents into a strength?
The formula for turning your talents into a strength is simple:
Step 1: Identify your most powerful talents.
Step 2: Improve your natural talents with practice.
Step 3: Acquire the relevant skills and knowledge to turn your talents into a strength.
Every leader should be following the path to mastery.
The path to mastery will be a lot shorter when you expend effort developing your natural talents than when you spend a comparable amount of energy to remediate your weaknesses.
[source] StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath
Habit 56 - The 80/20 Principle
From “The 80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch
“The reason that the 80/20 Principle is so valuable is that it is counter-intuitive. We tend to expect that all causes will have roughly the same significance. That all customers are equally valuable. That every bit of business, every product, and every dollar of revenue is as good as any other. That all employees in a particular category have roughly equivalent value. That each day or week or year we spend and the same significance. That all our friends have roughly equal value to us. That all inquiries or phone calls should be treated in the same way. That one university is as good as another. That all problems have a large number of causes, so that it is not worth isolating a few key causes. That all opportunities are of roughly equal value, so we treat them all equally.”
Our natural assumption is to believe that 50 percent of causes or inputs will account for 50 percent of results or outputs.
When you dive deeper and measure the input against the output, the most likely result will be a pattern of imbalance. The imbalance may be 65/35, 70/30, 80/20, or even 99/1. The point is that there will be an imbalance.
From “The 80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch
“Most of the time, we do not realize the extent to which some resources, but only a small minority, are super-productive – what Joseph Juran called the ‘vital few’ – while the majority – the ’trivial many’ – exhibit little productivity or else actually have negative value. If we do realize the difference between the vital few and the trivial many in all aspects of our lives and if we did something about it, we could multiply anything that we valued.”
How to Apply the 80/20 Principle
Here are three simple ways that you can start using today to take advantage of the 80/20 principles in work and life.
1) Find the 20 percent that is giving you the 80 percent.
A small portion of your effort is making a huge impact. Identify the small subset of skills, people, and activities that are giving you the highest return.
2) Double down on the 20 percent that feeds your 80 percent.
Once you’ve identified the inputs that have the highest return, move more of your resources to these areas. Invest more time, energy, and money to these high-value activities.
3) Stop investing in low-value activities.
The biggest challenge is to let go of the 80 percent that is only proving a 20 percent return. Elimination of these low-value areas is essential for your long-term success and sanity.
[source] The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch
Habit 57 - Make Effective Decisions
Buried in The 80/20 Principle, author Richard Koch shares his five rules for making effective decisions.
I’ve summarized the five rules of decision making and added my thoughts to each point.
1) Not many decisions are important.
The first rule is that not all decisions are important.
We have a limited amount of mental energy available to use each day. Don’t waste it on making unnecessary and trivial decisions.
Deciding what to wear or what to eat for lunch, take energy away from the crucial decisions that would be better spent on choices that contribute to your long-term goals and critical projects.
What are the top 20% of unnecessary decisions that are taking up 80% of your time and energy? Create systems and routines that take the guesswork out of deciding what to do.
A great example of this is Steve Jobs. He always wore his classic black turtle neck and jeans. His closet was full of the same thing, so that he didn’t need to decide what to wear each day.
2) The most important decisions are often made by default.
The second rule of decision making is that the most important decisions have already been made without you even realizing it.
Just take a look at all of the urgent things that have happened to you over the past week. Each one of these mini-crises was caused by a previous decision or indecision.
As the lyrics of the classic Rush song states, “If you choose not to decide, You still have made a choice.”
Step 1: List out all of the emergencies that have happened in the past week.
Step 2: Look for patterns and identify the top 20% that are wasting time and energy.
Step 3: What one thing can you do to reduce their frequency or, better yet, prevent them from happening again?
3) Use the 80/20/100/100 principle of decision making.
The third rule of decision making is to use the 80/20/100/100 principle.
From “The 80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch
“Gather 80 percent of the data and perform 80 percent of the relevant analyses in the first 20 percent of the time available, then make a decision 100 percent of the time and act decisively as if you were 100 percent confident that the decision is right.”
Let’s break that down:
Step 1: Look at the total time available and spend the first 20% on gathering data.
Step 2: Gather 80% of the data and perform 80% of the relevant analysis.
Step 3: At the end of the data gathering period, make a decision 100% of the time.
Step 4: Act as if you are 100% confident that you have made the right decision.
Step 5: Let go of all other options and proceed without regret.
The key to this rule is to make sure you’ve time-boxed your decision-making period. If you have one of those never-ending projects or suffer from analysis paralysis, set a deadline for making a decision.
4) If what you have decided isn’t working, change your mind early rather than later.
There are a couple of crucial insights buried in this rule.
First, how will you know if what you’ve decided is working?
When you make a decision, you need to be clear on two things. What direction are you going AND how will you measure progress.
Second, it’s ok to change your mind.
Moving ahead with the mindset that you are 100% confident that you’ve made the right decision doesn’t mean that you move blindly forward.
All decisions are just best guesses based on available data. Build-in regular milestones to check your progress.
Third, it’s NOT ok to second guess yourself.
The reason you make decisions is so that you can move forward.
You can’t make progress if you keep using up valuable brainpower judging and regretting each choice.
Once you’ve made a decision, let go of all other options. Conserve energy by monitoring your key measures every few weeks.
5) When something is working well, double and redouble your bets.
Once you’ve discovered something that is working well, throw more resources at it.
Continue to refine your approach, investing in what’s working and discarding what’s not.
[source] The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch
Habit 64 - Review Your Goals
An airplane is off-course 99% of the time, yet it still arrives at its destination. It does this by making small yet frequent course corrections throughout the entire flight.
Are you looking for a way to dramatically increase the chances of you achieving your goals? Then just like the pilot of an airplane, you need to implement a regular review process.
Don’t make the mistake of setting goals once a year, never review or check-in, and be surprised when you don’t achieve them.
How often should you check-in? I recommend at least weekly, monthly, at a minimum, daily if you are able.
Habit 68 - What You Measure Improves
An interesting aspect of human behaviour is that anything that you measure will naturally improve.
Want to save money? Start tracking how you are spending it.
Are you looking to lose weight? Begin counting calories or track your daily step count.
Have big goals? Then monitor the projects required to achieve them.
WARNING – Not all measures are created equal.
Lead measure and better than lag measures.
Here’s the difference …
Lag measures – Tell you when you have arrived at your destination.
Achieving target dates, increased revenue, weight loss and your next promotion are all lag measures, meaning that when you receive them, the activities that drove them are in the past.
Lead measures – Measure the high-impact activities you do to achieve your outcome.
Daily checkpoints, conversion rate, calorie intake and living your values are all lead measures, meaning they measure the behaviours that drive success.
What lead measures should you be tracking?
Habit 74 - Stop Multitasking
Multitasking is the productivity killer.
Our brains are not designed for multitasking – our conscious mind can only process things sequentially.
If you believe you are good at multitasking, what you are actually doing it rapid task switching or juggling.
Juggling is the process of switching between thoughts rapidly, giving the illusion of multitasking.
Two things happen every time you switch between tasks …
- The first is nearly instantaneous: you decide to switch.
- The second is less predictable: you have to activate the “rules” for whatever you’re about to do.
When watching television or folding laundry, the rules are less complex, so the impact is minimal.
However, if you are doing something the requires deep thought like coding, writing, or working on a spreadsheet and are interrupted by a co-worker, the relative complexity of these tasks makes it impossible to jump back and forth easily.
Each time you are interrupted or distracted, the neural network of “rules” collapses.
And when you switch back, it takes time to rebuild this internal thought pattern, and there’s no guarantee that you will even pick up exactly where you left off.
According to researcher Dr. David Meyer, “The cost in terms of extra time to task switch depends on how complex or simple the tasks are. It can range from time increases of 25 percent or less for simple tasks to well over 100 percent of more for very complex tasks.”
This rapid task switching is a cost few realize they are even paying.
[source] The One Thing by Gary Keller
Habit 79 - News Fasting
News addiction is actually a thing.
We think we need to stay on top of what’s happening in the world.
The problem is that most news stories are filled with negative messages which keep people engaged and impact our mood.
This can cause heightened levels of anxiety, sadness and depression – all factors that impact our performance.
I stopped watching the news and reading the newspaper over 20 years ago.
I still hear about critical events and essential things through real conversations with others.
Build the habit of taking a break from watching the news on television, reading newspapers, or following the news on the Internet.
Try this for a few days or even a week at a time.
The results may surprise you.
Habit 83 - Turn Off Technology
We live in a hyperconnected world.
While I love how technology has advanced over the years, we as human beings are just starting to understand the negative impacts of always being connected.
Sleep loss, heightened anxiety, shortened attention spans, fear of missing out, and not being fully present during face-to-face interactions, to name just a few.
Just because our technology can keep us connected 24/7 doesn’t mean we should.
The challenge that most people have is that we let our technology control us instead of controlling our technology.
As a starting point, utilize the downtime feature on your phone (or download one of the many apps that do this) and set a window of at least one hour before bed and an hour after where you disconnect from your technology.
Habit 87 - Establish Flow
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from his classic book “Flow,” we perform at our best at the point where the level of difficulty and our level of skill meet.
If it’s too difficult a challenge, we will give up with frustration.
If it’s too easy a challenge and well within our abilities, we will quickly get bored and turn to something else.
In what ways can you create opportunities for flow?
[source] Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Habit 90 - Expand Comfort Zone
Your comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar, and you are at ease and in control of your environment.
In this zone, since anxiety and stress are low, a steady level of performance is possible.
When you step out of your comfort zone, you enter the performance zone.
This raises anxiety and generates a stress response, which results in an enhanced level of concentration and focus.
Beyond the performance zone, lies the “danger zone” in which performance declines rapidly under the influence of greater anxiety.
Performance deteriorates as higher levels of anxiety are attained.
When anxiety is high, we tend to be less mindful and fall into our reactive style.
Fewer alternatives are tried out, and more familiar strategies (automatic patterns) are used, even if they are no longer helpful.
Strategically use the performance zone to expand our comfort zone.
Our inner work as leaders is to discover what’s keeping us in our comfort zone.
Habit 102 - Overcome Procrastination
Did you know that there a formula to overcome procrastination?
Yup, it was created by author Piers Steel in his book The Procrastination Equation and looks like this …
MOTIOVATION = EXPECTANCY x VALUE / IMPULSIVENESS x DELAY
Let’s go a little deeper …
Expectancy = Do you expect a positive outcome? How confident are you in your abilities to achieve your outcome? If expectancy is high, you’re less likely to procrastinate.
Value = Do you enjoy doing the task? Will you enjoy the end result? Is it meaningful in some way? High value equals high motivation.
Impulsiveness = Do you easily get distracted and lack focus? Then you will have a tough time sticking with the task.
Delay = The further away the reward from our effort, the greater likelihood of procrastination.
Motivation = The opposite of procrastination.
If you want high levels of motivation, increase Expectancy + Value and decrease Impulsiveness + Delay.
What habits can you apply to overcome procrastination? Here are a few to choose from …
- Start With Purpose
- Turn Off Technology
- Stop Multitasking
- Leverage Your Strengths
- Set MT Goals
- Overcome Urgency Addiction
- Develop A Positive Attitude
- Establish A Growth Mindset
The graphic above was created by Alex Vermeer, and you can find it here.
[source] The Procrastination Equation by Piers Steel
Habit 105 - Your Ideal Week
The week seems to be the perfect amount of time to get stuff done.
It enables us to step out of the moment and rise above the noise of email and our endless todo list.
And yet it’s not too far ahead that anything we plan wouldn’t be easily disrupted.
Crafting your ideal week allows us to place our Big Rocks First before the rest of the noise invades our calendar.
Start with an empty seven-day schedule and label the days of the week.
I like starting my week on Monday. This way, my weekend is at the end of the week instead of being split in half.
Here’s the process that I go through …
- Schedule in your Morning and Evening Routines. Make sure to leave enough time for sleep.
- Determine your official work and personal days. Schedule in date nights and other family activities.
- Create time blocks for your ONE thing when you are the most productive.
- Carve out space for regular meetings. For example, make Tuesday and Thursday afternoons your weekly one-on-one days.
- Another option is to set themes for a specific day. Monday is project planning, Tuesday is finances, etc.
- Then fill in the rest of the calendar with time blocks for checking emails and other activities.
Habit 109 - Complete A Time Study
A time study is an excellent yearly ritual as a way to measure your personal effectiveness.
The idea is track your time over the a period of a week and determine if it’s aligned with your priorities.
This is the same approach as tracking where your money goes to determine if it’s aligned with your budget or track calories if you are on a diet.
And since time is your most precious resource, it makes sense that you would want to know how you are spending it.
This can be as simple as printing out a blank weekly schedule and log your time in 30 min increments or as advanced as using a time tracking app like toggl.com.
You can use a time study to …
Habit 112 - Find Your Sweet Spot
Wouldn’t it be great if we could be super productive any time we needed it?
At any point in the day, we could just roll up our sleeves and produce our best work.
Unfortunately, productivity isn’t something we can just turn on when we need it.
We must take into account when our energy and creativity levels are at it’s highest.
One of the benefits of performing a time study is to determine when you are the most productive.
For most people, this is usually the first thing in the morning.
And once you’ve determined your most productive time, reserve it for your QII priorities.
Habit 115 - Time Blocking
From The ONE Thing by Garry Keller
“Most people think there’s never enough time to be successful, but there is when you block it. Time blocking is a very results-oriented way of viewing and using time. It’s a way of making sure that what has to be done gets done. Alexander Graham Bell said, “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” Time blocking harnesses your energy and centers it on your most important work. It’s productivity’s greatest power tool.”
Time blocking is the productivity tool of the ultra-productive.
It’s a simple concept that most people underutilize.
A time block is an appointment that you make with yourself to work on your one thing and actually keep.
If you are like most people, you let others control your time by allowing them to book meetings when it’s convenient from them.
Take back your power by taking control of your calendar and create time blocks for yourself.
If your one thing is a project, block off the appropriate hours and days.
If it’s a regular habit, schedule a reoccurring appointment with yourself.
Now comes the challenging part – do everything in your power to keep that appointment with yourself.
Set aside everything else – other projects, emails, calls, meetings – and focus 100% of your attention on your one thing.
Start with one hour per day and move up from there.
[source] The ONE Thing by Garry Keller