How The Power of Habit Creates Better Leaders

a better leader power of habit

The Projections team reads a new book together each year, and our 2019 book was Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit.”

In his book, “The Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg breaks down the science behind our mind’s ability to simplify and automate recurring tasks throughout our day – and throughout our lives. Duhigg reveals the mind’s ability to reprogram itself and the art of helping others do the same. In my opinion, the book should nearly be required reading for leaders looking to shape a company culture or build continuity across locations, shifts or individuals.

Perhaps the most powerful of Duhigg’s principles ( which I have applied to my own leadership and management) is the concept of keystone habits. Duhigg describes keystone habits as those that have a reverberating, rippling effect throughout an individual’s life or a company’s culture. An example of this might be an individual who decides to pay off their debt, and during this process develops a budget that doesn’t allow for fast food in order to save for unexpected expenses. This results in weight loss and a higher sense of security in addition to the planned reduced debt. Such habits can also exist within an organization; such as Starbucks’ keystone habit of willpower training. Succeeding in an area where so many other companies (and sometimes even schools and parents) have failed has created a loyal and excellent company culture for the world’s most famous coffee brand.

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The Science Behind Willpower

Duhigg breaks down the science behind willpower; including conclusions that willpower is both a trait that can be learned, as well as a muscle that can be strengthened (and get tired). Studies even showed that an individual who increased their willpower in one area of their life improved in basically every other area of their life. Someone who learns to force himself to go to the gym or follow a budget also improves in their ability to hold their tongue in a moment of anger, or patiently respond to a customer or colleague.

“Part of what happens, is it changes how you think,” wrote a professor and researcher at Dartmouth College. “People get better at regulating their impulses… and once you have gotten into that willpower groove, your brain is practiced at focusing on a goal.” This focus allows individuals to overcome temptations they would have previously given in to; be that a donut instead of a healthy breakfast, or cutting corners on a project instead of giving the extra effort required for excellence.

Habits Conserve Energy

In The Power of Habit, Duhigg also discusses Starbucks’ initial failure at willpower training and the changes they worked through to turn difficult experiences for their employees into positive habitual responses. When a response becomes a habit, it does not exhaust our willpower and allows us to continue to make successful decisions for the remainder of our work day and home life in the evenings.

So ask yourself these questions: How could my leadership benefit from learning how to develop habits within myself and others better? Is there a keystone habit that could dramatically influence my company’s culture or even my personal life? Does my willpower muscle need to be strengthened?

Answering these questions might just lead to a breakthrough for your personal life or for your company. If so, you will have discovered The Power of Habit.

Walter Orechwa

As Projections’ CEO and the creator of A Better Leader, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.

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