Leader character is a collection of traits, values, and virtues that are widely recognized in strong leaders, such as humility, courage, and collaboration. SIGMA’s Leader Character Insight Assessment (LCIA) is a useful resource for leaders to learn more about their own current leader character profile and to select areas for development.

When it comes to selecting areas for development, one of the best strategies is to identify helpful and unhelpful work habits and attempt to change the things that impede the full expression of desired character dimensions. In other words, leaders can develop their own character over time by changing the kinds of habitual behaviors they use at work every day. By taking a fresh and honest look at your work-related habits, you can find opportunities to express leader character in your everyday life. Before we do that, let’s talk about habits and how they can help or hurt your performance.

What is a Habit?

A habit is a pattern of behaviors that, through repetition, become well-learned and automatic. You can engage in habitual behaviors without any conscious thought or decision. For example, you might be so used to starting your car the same way every day that your don’t have to spend mental energy thinking about the steps to begin driving — your brain automatically remembers the same sequence of events, such as unlocking the car, getting in, putting on your seatbelt, turning on the car, and checking mirrors before putting the car in drive.

While habits are easy to identify in our personal lives, they’re also frequently found at work. For example, you may find that you reply to emails in the same way, using the same salutation and sign off. While many of our habits are harmless, some work habits can adversely impact our leader character, such as making impulsive decisions or not taking responsibility for our mistakes. These sorts of unhelpful habits that weaken leader character can also be detrimental to our work performance and relationships. In these cases, we should work to become aware of, and ultimately alter our habits. To begin the process of habit change, first we have to understand how habits are structured in the habit loop.

The Habit Loop

The habit loop represents how habits are formed and strengthened over time in our minds and behaviors. Habits are made of three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward.[i]

Cues are anything that triggers a habit, like a physical location, time, feeling, specific people, or regular action. For example, you may typically feel angry and frustrated when you receive a stressful email, or an email from a particular person or concerning a certain project.

Routines are what we think of when we usually think about habits; they’re the specific behavior we do. For example, when we consistently respond to emails quickly without taking time to calm down first.

The last element of the habit loop, reward, explains why we continue repeating a habit. They feel good for a certain reason, causing our brains to remember the habit. Rewards can be intangible, like positive feelings, or tangible, like eating a sweet treat. In the emotional email reply example, the reward might be the temporary positive feeling of relieving some stress or frustration.

In distinguishing between helpful and unhelpful work habits, consider whether the end result of your behavior is helping your work performance and relationships in the long run. In the above example, replying hastily and emotionally may feel good in the moment, but you may quickly regret sending the email and it can harm the quality of your relationships at work. These unhelpful work habits can also reflect poorly on your leader character. You may become known as someone with a lot of drive to achieve work goals, but not a lot of temperance to rein in your passion, and lacking in judgment to know when negative emotions should be set aside temporarily.

Identify Your Current Habits

An easy way to identify which of your daily work habits are not useful is to pay close attention to your thoughts throughout a day or over the course of a week. When we engage in a habit that is not helpful, our brains often tell ourselves, “I really need to stop doing this” or “this is bad for me.” When you hear that phrase in your head throughout the day, take a moment to jot down the habits that are related to the thought.

Once you have a list of habits you want to change, you can take a look at the 11 dimensions and corresponding elements of the LCIA and see if any of your habits relate to the LCIA character competencies you’d like to work on. For example, if you find yourself regretting your habit of impulsively sending emotional emails before taking time to think them through, this might be linked to an improvement you could make in the character dimension of temperance, which concerns the virtue of patience and emotional control. You can also get a better sense of what character competencies you can work on by taking the LCIA Self and viewing your score results in the report.

Start Changing Your Habits

When embarking on a behavior change process, the first thing to do is identify what you’d most like to focus on and change. Maybe it’s a behavior that you frequently engage in at work, or one that has a significant impact on your work.

As there are three different parts to the habit loop, you can change any of these three parts to change your habit. We’ll use a few examples of common unhelpful habits at work and how you can change them to develop various dimensions of character below.

  1. Changing the Cue: It’s difficult to control what’s in your environment, but you can still make some changes so that you can be better prepared for certain cues that trigger unhelpful habits. For example, you may often find that you speak over other colleagues in meetings and tend to dominate the conversation when others begin to share their opinions. If this is a habit you’re looking to change, you can set a pop-up notification 15 minutes before your scheduled meeting to remind yourself that you would like to share the speaking space with others better. This change can allow yourself to work on expressing more humility.
  2. Changing the Routine: You can try to change the actual behavior you take part in so that it becomes more useful to you. For example, to break the habit of overworking and not taking a lunch break — a case of having too much driveto achieve goals — change your routine by physically leaving your desk for an hour mid-day instead of sitting there with your food. This routine change will help you physically distance yourself from your desk so you aren’t tempted to work on your computer while you eat.
  3. Experimenting with Rewards: Ingrained, unhelpful habits have rewards built into them which make them feel satisfying to you. Rewards ensure that these habits persist, despite the outcomes not always serving your best interests or your goals. To break this cycle, first, identify which feel-good aspect of the habit keeps you repeating it, then try to disrupt and replace the habit loop with a different behavior and reward.

For example, you might have the habit of taking on responsibilities and not delegating tasks to your team. Opting to work in isolation can overburden you and reduce learning opportunities for your team, but this habit might feel satisfying because it gives you a sense of control and accomplishment. If this sounds like your pattern too, then collaboration might be an important leadership character competency to develop. Try recognizing when you are cued to take work on that others could do, and instead of continuing on this way, use this cue — receiving work to complete — as a call to delegate to others. Keep the rewards of delegating, such as more time for the work that only you can truly do and new opportunities for others, at the forefront of your mind, and try rewarding yourself in other ways for delegating while this becomes a habit. You might try taking a coffee break, or doing something else with that saved time.

Habit Change Tips

Start Small: Change can feel overwhelming, especially if too much changes too fast. You may have experienced this in the past when you ambitiously set yourself numerous New Year’s resolutions and found that you couldn’t keep any of them! In reality, the most sustainable changes are those that are small in scope. For example, you might want to improve your judgment and humility character dimensions by becoming more well-read. Instead of setting a goal to read one entire book per month, start small and set a more attainable  goal of reading one news or magazine article per week.

Use Social Support: In the same way comparing steps per day with other fitness watch users motivates us to stay active, we often feel more compelled to commit to change when we know others are supporting us and keeping us accountable. If you are trying to change a work-related habit, bring it up with your manager during a check-in meeting or share your goal with a close colleague.

Take Care of Your Health: Committing to change is easier when you have plenty of mental and physical energy, and staying physically and mentally healthy helps increase your energy reserves. Sleeping enough, exercising regularly, eating satisfying food, and connecting with loved ones can all help you thrive personally and professionally.

Track Your Progress: As you begin changing your habits, it’s a good idea to get a sense of how you’ve improved over time to help you stay motivated. You can keep a notebook or online document and track progress there. Before beginning your habit change attempt, write a short summary of how you feel about the habit, and in regular biweekly increments  write updates of your successes. For example, after a few months of practicing patience when replying to emotional emails, you may begin to feel that your relationships with colleagues become more comfortable and less tense.

Learn How to Change Your Habits with SIGMA

Leader character can be developed with dedicated focus. First, learn more about your own character by taking the LCIA. Once you identify your personal areas of development, you can then work towards developing new, helpful work habits. Making long-term habit changes takes time and effort and benefits from social support. If you need assistance with getting started or tracking your progress over time, you may find it useful to take advantage of our personalized coaching sessions. A SIGMA coach will work with you one-on-one to understand, track, and measure your habit change as it relates to leader character. To learn more, contact us today.

Try the LCIA for Free

Are you curious about the LCIA? Would you like to learn more? Check out our limited-time, LCIA Free Trial to test our online platform, get a sneak peek at what it’s like to take the assessment, and receive a personalized report with your leader character results. If you have questions about your scores, feel free to call or email Ruby (below). Ruby is one of our best leader character coaches; she would be happy to discuss your results and tell you a little more about the LCIA.

Talk to Ruby

consultant

Ruby Nadler, Ph.D., Leadership Consultant

Ruby has a Ph.D in Cognition and Perception, as well as specific training in mindfulness and positive psychology. She brings this expertise to SIGMA’s executive coaching programs. In 2015 she was awarded a two-year Ontario Centers of Excellence TalentEdge Fellowship, and her research has been featured on CBC, BBC Radio, Happify, and NPR. Call or email Ruby – she would be happy to answer questions about the LCIA, leader character, coaching, etc.

Phone: 1-800-401-4480 ext. 223

[i] Duhigg, C. How habits work. Retrieved from https://charlesduhigg.com/how-habits-work/