Four Simple Habits Executives Should Stop Resisting
Leaders at the peak of their careers often struggle to introduce new habits into a crammed schedule — especially if those habits don't show a direct correlation to the bottom line. But spending every moment in pursuit of quarterly results can cause you to miss out on the bigger picture — and ultimately stall your momentum. These four simple habits are proven to boost productivity, raise energy and improve working relationships. Have you tried them yet?
1. Stop poo-pooing mindfulness: Meditate, center, unplug.
"Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes — including you." – Anne Lamott.
In our increasingly connected, "always on," global corporate culture, the leaders and executives I work with are juggling schedules parsed into 15-minute and sometimes even five-minute increments. You are smart, determined, and capable of keeping up this pace, and at a certain level most of you thrive in and feed off the energy that is created in this rapidfire cadence of shifting topics and diverse interactions.
All the while — scrolling in the background are texts, emails, news alerts, market updates and your kids' Twitter feeds to keep up with. All successful leaders recognize that the constant digital stream of information we have access to today is a double-edged sword; at once bringing more accurate and timely information to your decision-making processes while simultaneously increasing cognitive pressure as a result of having to sift through the irrelevant and often distracting information that comes in over the same platforms.
It’s no wonder some of my clients shift uncomfortably in their chairs the first time I ask them if they would consider closing their eyes, focusing on their breath and centering themselves for a few minutes with me. You’re on a roll, in your groove. And unscheduled "down time" means loss of productivity. To which I respond, "Hogwash!"
With growing evidence of meditation’s measurable benefits (increased resilience, enhanced creativity, improved relationships and strengthened ability to focus and retain information, to name a few), senior leaders and C-suite execs would be wise to incorporate meditation or quiet time into your daily routines.
Cultivate the discipline of beginning your day with even ten minutes of uninterrupted silence to notice your breathing, clear your mind, get in touch that quiet voice within. It’s a powerful tool. Even more powerful: ten minutes in the middle of your day will reboot your system and provide a reset and refresh that will allow you to better focus and prioritize.
2. Abolish the idea that you’re supposed to know it all. Stay curious.
"I have no particular talent. I am merely inquisitive." – Albert Einstein
Somewhere along the way, many executives get this idea that because they’ve attained a certain status and scope of influence, they’re supposed have all the answers. In my experience, there are two phases of career transition in which this silly belief starts to take root. First was mid-career — manager/director level — when the cadence of promotions began to slow a bit (the leaps between senior director and vice president are wider than between coordinator to representative) and you had a fair bit of tenure under your belt. You probably felt pressure to know more than you think you did at this stage. The second phase is the leap into the top three layers of an organization. You’ve learned the game, you’ve mastered the rules, and you’ve learned a lot of the answers. But this can be where you get stuck.
"In many cases, managers and top executives have risen through the ranks by providing fixes and solutions, not by asking questions. And once they’ve attained a position of leadership, they may feel the need to project confident expertise." – Warren Berger, "Why Curious People are Destined for the C-Suite"
The trap — obviously — is that getting where you are in the first place probably had a lot to do with your ability to learn quickly: to ask the questions, to synthesize the information and to make decisions. And with your newfound status, the sad fact is that there are fewer people willing to proactively tell you what they think. If you let your question-asking muscles atrophy, your decision-making output is going to get stale fast.
BONUS: As with most leadership behaviors, curiosity has more than one benefit. Asking questions of people throughout your organization not only gives you more information, a fresh perspective and new data, but it also helps your teams feel like an important, contributing and engaged part of your company.
3. Focus on the positive. Seriously — keep a list.
"You've done it before and you can do it now. See the positive possibilities." – Ralph Marston
Whether you make lists or detest them — at the end of the day, what are you counting up? Are you swirling about all the things you didn't get done? Or are you reveling in the things you did?
Try this on: Before writing your to-do list for tomorrow, take some time to write a "did it" list. Everything counts: Finalized the quarterly business review deck. Made my bed. Had a difficult, but important conversation with my finance lead. Gave a stranger directions. Took the stairs instead of the elevator. Squeezed in a 20-minute workout at lunch. Paid the water bill. "Attempted" to help my teenage son with his ridiculously complicated trigonometry homework (I KNOW I learned this when I was 16...)
Now feel how your energy shifts after looking at that list. Focus on what you’ve accomplished, how it feels to have accomplished it, and how it will feel to accomplish more tomorrow. Momentum is a miracle motivator. Kinetic energy vs. potential. Harness your kinetic.
4. Spend time in gratitude.
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." – John F. Kennedy
Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools you can use to shift your energy and perception. A growing number of studies show that gratitude is good for your physical health. Additionally, people who practice gratitude report having more patience, healthier relationships, better sleep and resilience from bouts of depression. All of this means that you may have more energy for the creative problem solving, innovative ideas, and interpersonal motivation required to keep your company growing and thriving.
Aside from the numerous personal benefits of practicing gratitude, leaders who remember to say "thank you" to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. Praise often and authentically. It raises your energy — and has an immeasurable impact on the people who look to you to lead them.