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Skill 01 – Lead Yourself

The Complete List of Essential Leadership Habits for New Managers, Team Leaders, and Change Agents to Lead with Confidence

Great leadership begins with leading yourself.

Leading yourself is about paying attention to what’s working and what’s not.

The habits in this area are about mastering the fundamentals that will enable us to perform at our best. 

Let’s jump in …

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Habit 1 -​ Widen The Gap

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Victor E. Frankl

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

When I first heard this quote, I remember thinking, “what a load of crap!”

The quote actually triggered an emotional hijack within me. The quote was the stimulus, and I jumped right into a reactive response.

No space. No gap. Straight into an automatic pattern of judgment, closed-mindedness, and negativity.

Then I paused, took a breath, and reread the quote.

The ah-ha moment occurred when I realized that I was actually caught up in a mini emotional hijack.

I noticed the automatic reaction.

I noticed the judgement.

I noticed the negative reaction.

I noticed the space.

It turns out that 95% of our behaviour is automatic – For the vast majority of our days, we are swept away by our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.

We can either ignore this principle and continue to live our life on autopilot, or we can choose to become intentional about how we show up as leaders.

Adopting this habit means to be mindful of our reactive nature and actively work on widening the gap between our external triggers and automatic responses.

Habit 8 -​ Develop Self-awareness

The one thing that makes great leaders stand out above the rest is their commitment to self-awareness.

According to the authors of The Passion Paradox, self-awareness is “the ability to see yourself clearly by assessing, monitoring, and proactively managing your core values, emotions, passions, behaviours, and impact on others.”

Here are just a few of the personal and professional benefits of developing self-awareness …

  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Ability to bounce back after setbacks
  • Increased levels of happiness and personal satisfaction
  • Ability to keep calm under pressure
  • Higher levels of focus and creativity
  • Elevated levels of empathy and connection with others
  • Shortened recovery time from emotional hijacks
  • Deepened levels of flow and productivity
  • Access to more information when in stressful situations
  • Discovery of strengths and weaknesses
  • Clarity of purpose, core values, and personal mission
  • Greater ability to influence and drive change

Even with all of these benefits, there are still some people that say self-awareness is soft.

Self-awareness is anything but soft.

Anyone that says self-awareness is soft hasn’t faced their inner demons.

If they …

  • Did the hard inner work required to stand in defiance of their inner critic and slay the dragon, they would say self-awareness makes you a warrior.
  • Knew how difficult it is to open our minds, let go of biases, and uncover our blind spots, they would say self-awareness makes you a hero.
  • Took on the challenge of opening their hearts, exposing their raw inner selves, and authentically served their people, they would say self-awareness makes you a leader.

Those that say self-awareness is soft are still trapped in the matrix, stuck in their reactive behaviour, building their silos, and blaming the outside world for their problems and lack of progress.

Committing to developing your self-awareness is probably the hardest thing you will ever do.

And it will also transform you into the leader that I know you can become.

[Quote] The Passion Paradox by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness.

Habit 22 -​ You Are Your Habits

Everything we do is a habit.

Your habits are patterns of behaviours that you perform automatically.

From the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you go to bed, your brain is guiding your behaviour through a series of habits.

These habits fall into one of three main categories …

1) Habits of Thinking (conscious/unconscious)

Often referred to as mindset, habits of thinking are our patterns of thought, which are influenced by our beliefs, judgements, mental models, stories, rules, and values.

2) Habits of Doing (mind/body)

Habits of doing are our external actions and behaviours that are directed by our purpose, passions, and goals.

3) Habits of Relating (self/others)

We are social creatures. This final group of habits are patterns of how we influence and how we are influenced.

The bottom line is that habits determine your success, personal fulfillment, and long-term happiness.

Build the habit of thinking about your habits.

Habit 23 -​ Start Where You Are

Probably the biggest mistake that I hear as a leadership coach is when someone says they will “act like a leader” when they are put “in charge.”

Here’s the truth – You will never be put “in charge” if you don’t demonstrate that you can actually lead.

The great news is that there are opportunities to lead right in front of you – if you just open your eyes.

Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, the new job, or the next project – pick two or three habits from this list and start where you are!

Habit 24 -​ Walk The Path

Walk The Path is my model for leadership development called The 5 Stages of Great Leadership.

I use these five stages as a reference point to measure my growth as a leader.

Here are The 5 Stages of Great Leadership with links to further reading …

As you continue to add positive habits to your way of thinking, doing, and relating, you can use the five stages to measure your progress as you walk the path of a great leader.

Habit 40 -​ Establish A Growth Mindset

A mindset is a set of beliefs that we have about the world.

Those with a fixed mindset believe that personality traits, skills, and talents are static and cannot be changed.

While a growth mindset believes that these abilities can be changed and improved with practice.

The work of Carol Dweck and her colleagues have shown that those with a fixed mindset are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset.

One of the biggest things that you can do for your career is to adopt the habit of a growth mindset.

[source] Mindset – The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Habit 41 -​ Identify Your Blindspot

According to the authors of Mastering Leadership, 75% of leaders have what they call a reactive leadership style.

A reactive leadership style is a blind spot – an area where we refuse to see the reality of a situation – usually due to a lack of awareness or cognitive bias.

Your blind spot can severely limit your ability to be an effective leader in both your personal and professional life.

To get unstuck, we need to shine a light on our blind spot by developing self-awareness around how we show up as a leader – when it counts the most.

[source] Mastering Leadership by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams

Habit 49 -​ Inside Out vs Outside In

Outside In vs Inside Out

Our mind is an extremely complex system, and we are just scratching the surface of how it works.

What I’ve learned is that each of us holds an internal representation of ourselves, the world, and our place in it.

The ah-ha moment for me was when I realized that we’ve been building this internal representation from the outside-in since the moment of our existence.

An outside-in view of the world builds an internal representation based on the expectations of others, which creates a reactive, judgmental, and fixed mindset. 

When we take an inside-out approach, we intentionally set out to rewrite out internal representation through self-awareness and mindfulness.

This enables us to shift toward a mindful, curious, growth mindset.

You can read more about this here.

Habit 53 -​ Pursue Mastery

In a world full of instant gratification and quick-fixes, the pursuit of mastery is a rare and valuable skill.

Pursuing mastery is the ongoing commitment to the process of knowledge growth and skill development within a specific domain or area of focus.

When you set an intention to the never-ending commitment to mastery, you are shifting your mindset from …

  • Outcome achievement to enjoying the practice.
  • Arriving at a destination to focusing on the journey.
  • Being the best in your field to measuring progress against yourself.
  • External validation to internal satisfaction.
  • Short term results to playing the long-game.
  • A life of mediocrity to the pursuit of mastery.

The fantastic thing is that mastery is available to everyone and is the key to success and long-term fulfilment.

If you are unsure where to apply mastery in our life, take some time to connect with your purpose, tap into your passion, and explore your options.

And once you decide, go as deep as you can.

Habit 54 -​ Enjoy The Plateau

The pursuit of mastery is not a linear process.

It looks more like a staircase with long flat horizontal steps interspaced with sharp vertical risers.

The long flat horizontal steps represent the plateau that is filled with the habits of instruction, practice, and feedback.

At some point during the never-ending practice, that last piece of the puzzle will fall into place, and we experience that ah-ha moment accompanied by a sharp increase in skill or flash of insight.

While we all crave these spurts of growth, the secret to long-term fulfilment is to enjoy the plateau.

In your pursuit to become a leader, it can be easy to focus on the achievement of the next level, stage, or promotion.

When we focus on the destination, we fall into the reactive behaviours of the stuck leader.

It’s the great leaders that go back to mastering the habits, focusing on the journey, and enjoying the plateau.

Habit 62 -​ Your Morning Ritual

What are your mornings like?

Most people hit the snooze bar a couple of times, drag themselves out of bed, and check their messages, social feeds, or some other mindless activity first thing in the morning.

Hectic mornings like these will set you up for a stressful and reactive day.

A morning ritual is a habit stack that creates a positive frame that sets you up for a much calmer and proactive day.

My morning ritual looks something like this …

Also, establish a rule to not check for messages until after your morning ritual is complete. This will prevent any distractions from getting in the way of your morning ritual.

Creating a morning routine is a fantastic way to accelerate your growth as a leader.

What 3 or 4 habits could your string together to form into a habit stack and establish your morning routine?

Habit 66 -​ Get Up Early

There’s something magical about getting up early.

The house is quiet, everything is calm, and it sets a positive frame for the rest of the day.

While the rest of the family is sleeping, I’ve already meditated, exercised, reflected on my purpose, and defined my top 3 priorities for the day.

If you are a parent and are looking to reap the benefits of a morning ritual, this will be all but impossible to achieve unless you decide to wake up before the rest of your family.

Ease into this habit by setting your alarm to go off 10 minutes earlier each day.

Make sure to balance this out by going to bed 10 minutes earlier so that you don’t lose out on sleep.

And within less than a week, you will have carved out an hour for your morning ritual.

Habit 67 -​ Get Enough Sleep

I used to believe that I could get by on 5 or 6 hours of sleep.

My thinking was, “There’s so much to do, why would I want to waste time sleeping.”

Here’s a quick test to see if you are getting enough sleep …

  1. Do you fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow?
  2. Do you get up without an alarm clock feeling rested?
  3. Do you stay alert all day (even throughout the afternoon slump)?

How many hours of sleep are you getting? Most adults need between 7.5 and 9 hours per night.

As an experiment, I shifted my routine to test what would happen if I slept for 8 hours every night.

After just a week, I noticed a massive difference in alertness, mental clarity, and creativity.

It turns out that the time I thought I was saving by staying up late was actually impacting the quality of my output.

Are you looking for a natural performance boost? Build the habit of getting enough sleep.

Habit 73 -​ Daily Stretches

I suffer from low back pain.

It turns out that I have a compressed lower spine, which, if I’m not careful, will pinch my sciatic nerve which causes shooting pain starting from my lower back, down through my hip, into my leg, and all the way down to my big toe.

Let’s just say it’s not pleasant, and anytime this happens, I’m out of action for 3 to 5 days.

After this happened a few times, I noticed a pattern …

  • Get injured – lots of pain!
  • Visit physiotherapist that gives me a list of stretches to perform
  • Do stretches during recovery
  • Get better
  • Stop doing stretches
  • Get injured again – lots of pain!
  • And repeat …

This got me thinking, what if I continued to perform stretches to prevent the injury from happening in the first place.

Seems kind of obvious now, but ever since I adopted the habit of daily stretching, my sciatica is rarely triggered, and when it is, recovery is less than 24 hours.

My stretching routine is a combination of standard stretches and a few simple yoga moves.

It’s very basic and takes less than 5 minutes each day – which is well worth investment.

Even if you don’t suffer from an injury, any form of stretching or yoga is an excellent habit to add to your morning routine.

Habit 78 -​ Exercise Regularly

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Robin S. Sharma

“If you don’t make time for exercise, you’ll probably have to make time for illness.”

We all know that regular exercise is good for us.

Yet, for years, I avoided it.

It wasn’t until a few years ago when I noticed that I hit a wall on my performance.

I seemed to be spinning my wheels, was low on energy, and not making much progress.

It was at this point that I decided to mix things up a little and started a regular exercise routine.

Not wanting to over-complicate things, I kept it simple.

I already owned a few dumb-bells and designed a simple home exercise routine.

Just this simple habit created a profound mind-shift that spilled over to all areas of my life.

It improved my self-confidence, and I was able to break out of my rut. 

Don’t under-estimate the power of a regular exercise habit.

Habit 82 -​ Meditation

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The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

“Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose, finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it? The pill exists. It’s called meditation.”

I’m a huge fan of mediation.

As of this writing, I’m on a one-thousand-six-hundred-and-sixty-five-day meditation streak.

I’ve meditated every single day for the past 1,665 days.

And I plan to continue this streak every single day for the rest of my life.

Why would I put so much effort and commitment toward a single activity?

Because I believe it is the single most important activity that I can do to improve my level of performance, reduce stress/anxiety and increase my level of happiness and overall personal satisfaction.

If you are serious about becoming a great leader, you need to add mediation to your habit stack.

To get started with your meditation habit, here’s an article that I’ve written to guide you step-by-step.

[source] The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

Habit 86 -​ Journaling

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Tony Robbins

“If your life’s worth living, it’s worth recording.”

Journaling has been part of my life for many years (my first physical journal dates back to December 1999).

I’ve tried many different types of journals, both physical and digital. Here’s my current setup …

Evernote – My go-to digital notebook where I store online articles, reference material, project plans, and weekly check-ins.

Moleskin + Fountain Pens – This is my main to-do list and planning source. I’ve recently started using The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carrol, which is simple to use, and I highly recommend it.

The Great Leaders One Page Blueprint – Yup, I practice what I preach. Each morning I use The Great Leaders One Page Blueprint to connect with my purpose, define my top 3 priorities, and plan out my day. You can grab a copy of the blueprint here.

[source] The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carrol

Habit 89 -​ Evening Ritual

Most people spend their evenings crashed out on the couch watching mindless TV or binge-watching Netflix.

While I do enjoy Netflix, I do try to set some limits.

Here’s a sample of my current evening ritual …

Your evening ritual is essential for releasing the stress from a busy day, connecting with loved ones, and preparing for a good night’s sleep.

What 3 or 4 habits can you stack together for your evening ritual?

Habit 93 -​ Work Shutdown Ritual

With flexible work arrangements and the unwritten expectation to respond to emails at all hours, it has become challenging to separate work from the rest of our lives.

In his book Deep Work, author Cal Newport suggests three reasons that you want to introduce a work shutdown ritual …

1) Downtime Aids Insight.

Your brain needs time to solve complex problems, and if you are always on, it becomes impossible for your unconscious mind to process and sift through potential solutions.

2) Downtime Helps Recharge the Energy Needed to Work Deeply.

Your brain has a finite amount of creative energy and needs time to recharge.

3) The Work That Evening Downtime Replaces Is Usually Not That Important.

Since we’ve used up our energy on high-value actives during the day, any work done after hours would essentially be low-value.

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From Deep Work by Cal Newport

“To succeed with this strategy, you must first accept the commitment that once your workday shuts down, you cannot allow even the smallest incursion of professional concerns into your field of attention. This includes, crucially, checking email, as well as browsing work-related websites. In both cases, even a brief intrusion of work can generate a self-reinforcing stream of distraction that impedes the shutdown advantages described earlier for a long time to follow (most people are familiar, for example, with the experience of glancing at an alarming email on a Saturday morning and then having its implication haunt your thoughts for the rest of the weekend).”

Here’s a sample work shutdown ritual…

  • Scan inbox for anything that requires an urgent response before the end of the day.
  • Review your day and capture any outstanding tasks from meetings or open projects.
  • Scan your open task list and review your calendar for any upcoming deadlines.
  • Identify your top priorities and create your plan for the next day.

Once you’ve performed your shutdown ritual, declare the workday complete, and shift your attention fully to taking a well-deserved break and spending time with family or friends.

[source] Deep Work by Cal Newport

Habit 96 -​ Technology Shutdown

Most of us are addicted to our technology.

Don’t believe me?

I’m sure you know exactly where your smartphone is located, and unless it’s currently charging in the next room, it’s probably within arms reach.

The odds are that you are reading this post on a mobile device.

The good news is that companies like Apple and Google have recognized the addictive nature of their technology and have made it easy for us to manage by implementing features to both monitor and limit usage.

I currently use Apple’s Screen Time feature to limit access to distracting apps across my devices.

All of my devices (iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro) have downtime enabled between the 8:30 PM and 7 AM.

Now I can still override when necessary, but this gentle reminder allows me to be more mindful of my technology usage.

You can even go so far as to set limits for social media and games.

If you have kids, the best thing you can do is enable parental controls on their devices as well.

Habit 101 -​ You Are What You Eat

Having spent my youth on the traditional computer programmer diet of Classic Coke and Joe Louis sponge cakes, I’m probably not the best person to give food advice.

What I have learned is that you are what you eat. Meaning that if you continue to eat processed, take-out and junk food over a period of years – it will eventually catch up with you.

Ever since I’ve been more mindful about what I eat, my physical health and mental energy have greatly improved.

The biggest win? Remove sugar. Here’s a quote from Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath …

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From Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath

“Sugar is a toxin. It fuels diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. At the current dose we consume, more than 150 pounds per person every year, sugar and its derivatives kill more people than cocaine, heroin, or any other controlled substance around.

One report aptly describes sugar as ‘candy for cancer cells.’ It accelerates aging and inflammation in the body and subsequently fuels tumor growth. It is now clear that if you lower your sugar intake, you reduce your odds of developing cancer.”

You can’t go wrong with building a habit of healthy eating.

[source] Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath

Habit 104 -​ Reading

I’m a huge fan of reading.

With my reading goal of 40 books a year, I’ve incorporated two primary types of reading into my life.

The first type is reading for fun.

For me, this is reading fantasy or science fiction.

I enjoy reading these books on my Kindle during breakfast, over lunch, and on the weekends.

The second type is reading for fun :).

In this group, I enjoy reading topics like leadership, strategy, mindfulness, self-help, productivity, and influence.

I prefer to have real copies of these books because I study the material by adding stickies, underlining, and write notes in the margins.

These books I read either first thing in the morning or before bed.

Regardless of what you read, there are many benefits. Here are just a few …

  • Mental Stimulation
  • Stress Reduction
  • Deepen Knowledge
  • Expand Vocabulary
  • Improve Memory
  • Stronger Analytical Thinking Skills
  • Increase Focus and Concentration
  • Better Writing Skills

Are you looking for something interesting to read? Check out what I’m reading on Goodreads.

Habit 108 -​ Always Be Learning

Not everyone is into reading 40 books a year.

If audio or video is more of your thing, consider audiobooks, podcasts, Ted Talks and various forms of online learning.

Both audiobooks and podcasts are excellent sources of knowledge and can be enjoyed while driving or exercising.

Ted Talks are a curated source of quality videos (usually about 18 min in length) and cover a wide range of topics.

There are also several specialized learning platforms to round out your learning.

One of my favourites is LinkedIn Learning, which is included with most LinkedIn premium subscriptions.

Make sure to add some form of learning into your daily habit stack.

Habit 111 -​ Go Deep

Intelligence can be defined as the ability to make finer and finer distinctions within a specific domain.

From this perspective, it means that it’s possible to get smarter as you go deeper.

I have a friend that doesn’t view himself as intelligent in the traditional sense, yet when it comes to baseball, he’s the smartest guy in the room.

He has the uncanny ability to understand the smallest difference between ERA’s, batting averages, and other stats.

The result – he usually wins the office fantasy baseball pool every season.

If we can go deep in one area, it’s possible to do it in others.

Your challenge is to pick a domain where you are going to go extremely deep.

Curious about where to start? Ask yourself the question … “what do you feel extremely qualified to teach?”

Once you have a domain in mind, develop a daily habit to go deeper.

Habit 114 -​ Explore

Before going deep, it can be useful to explore.

Exploring a wide range of disciplines seems counter-intuitive to achieving mastery but has is merits.

The knowledge and skills gained from exploring other disciplines can sharpen skills, promote creativity, and uncover opportunities.

When Steve Jobs was attending university, his approach was to explore classes that piqued his curiosity, and by combining his interest in fonts and love of technology, the Mac was born.

Another benefit of exploration is that it gives you time to find work that better serves your purpose, which can lead to a more fulfilling career.

If you’re not yet ready to decide on a path to mastery, create a habit to intentionally explore your interests.

Habit 118 -​ Practice Self-compassion

The reason that 75% of leaders never move beyond their reactive leadership style is that they are afraid.

They are afraid to take risks, to make mistakes, and to look foolish.

To get unstuck requires us to step out of our comfort zones, embrace new ways of thinking, and develop new skills.

This requires up to let go of control, be vulnerable, and admit that we don’t have all the answers.

I know that I can be pretty hard on myself.

And when things don’t work out correctly, I can be my own worst critic.

When this happens, I need to remind myself to practice self-compassion.

Self-compassion means treating ourselves with respect, kindness and understanding when we fail or feel inadequate.

When a close friend or loved one stumble, most of us find it very easy to provide support and encouragement.

And, amazingly, we tend to do the exact opposite when we make a mistake by calling ourselves an idiot or stupid.

So next time you mess up, realize that we are all human, and treat yourself like you would your best friend.

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