Mimicking Habits

habitsWe all have habits.  The American Journal of Psychology defines a habit as “ [a] fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”  In other words, a habit is a behavior we do regularly without much, if any thought.  As we all know, old habits tend to stick with us and developing new ones can be troublesome.   Most of us, as leaders focus on managing our own habits, but fail to recognize the propensity for emulation of our habits that occurs around us.  Those of that are parents know that children copy our behaviors and actions on a regular basis, but we fail to recognize that employees mimic as well.

Anyone that attends a management or leadership training course has heard the mantra “lead by example” and “know yourself.”  Most of us could easily list the positive characteristics that we possess and would like to see in our employees.  Similarly, if we are honest with ourselves, we could more than likely list the less than desirable characteristics as well.  However, the automatic nature of habits can beguile us since habits can be less obvious to us.  If I do not know I do something, how can I determine if I want others to copy it?

I worked with a senior executive over an extended period of time that was blind to her variances in interpersonal skills.  She was fairly warm, interested, and docile when dealing with non-financial issues, but once money became involved in any fashion, she became abrupt, demeaning, and self-aggrandizing.  She literally possessed a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dichotomy that would overtake her depending on the topic of interaction.  She was an exceptional financial manager and spent a considerable amount of time interacting with employees on financial matters, yet even the most competent employee dreaded interacting with her.  Good or bad news, if it had to do with money, she transformed from being rather pleasant to hostile.  However, as her managers began to emulate her, she became shocked, unhappy, and questioned their behavior. It took seeing it to notice it in herself. So, how do we avoid these blind spots?

If we want to increase the chance of appropriate behavioral messaging,  then we need to:

  • assess what we do on a regular basis;
  • ensure that we are leading by example in all facets of our job;
  • communicate our expectations;
  • listen to the concerns and ideas of our employees;
  • provide the necessary training and development; and
  • reward the behaviors that we desire.
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