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7 March 2022


What are they and how can we best tackle them?

Habits are often described as second nature: “That which has been turned into a habitual practice will be done with little or no conscious effort.”

If it’s a good habit, like routinely including exercise in your daily plan, then it's positive and to be encouraged.

If it’s a bad habit, however, such as finishing other people’s sentences or having to win at any cost, then it is an issue that may well be holding you back socially and at work. 

What makes it more challenging is when it is a habitual practice done with little or no conscious effort, meaning you are probably not even aware you are doing it! This, combined with people’s unease to tell others what’s annoying about them, becomes a greater challenge the more senior you get, and it can erode your leadership influence.

As we develop as leaders, our behaviours grow in importance compared to some of the skills that got us there in the first place. That’s not to say such skills aren’t still important, but how we show up; our behaviours, play more of a role in how we lead and how we are perceived as leaders. Annoying habits on the other hand will damage people’s perception of us as leaders, and self-destructive habits will hold us back from showing up to our full potential.

To identify what habits we have, we need to spend time on self-awareness: how we see ourselves and how we think others see us. For the reason stated above (that as we progress in our careers and become more senior, people are less likely to point out our faults), we need to actively seek out feedback on how we show up and self-reflect on what we see as the impact of our actions. 

Also as workloads increase and time becomes more pressured, making time for self-reflection may seem something you can ill-afford, but in not doing it, you are relying on what you know to date and not asking how can I improve and what I need to do to move forward? 

As your roles change and you become more senior what got you here, won’t get you there. 

Which, interestingly, is the name of the best-selling book by Marshall Goldsmith, a widely renowned author and executive coach. In his book What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There Goldsmith identifies 21 bad habits that prevent successful people from moving forward in their careers. They include habits such as Winning too much, Passing Judgement, and Telling the world how smart we are. 

The book identifies the habits, explains how to identify which you may have and what you can do to move forward. It’s a good read, particularly as a toe in the water of self-reflection, to ask do I recognise myself in any of these habits and, if so, how can I gather more information to see if other people see me in this light, and what can I do about changing the habit?

Goldsmith wrote a second book with Sally Helgesen, a thought leader in women achieving their potential in the workplace, on the topic of habits that hold people back. The book How Women Rise was written, as Goldsmith had noticed that the 21 habits in What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, didn’t commonly appear in the women leaders that he coached. Rather, they were based on what had been a predominantly male client base.

Goldsmith and Helgesen identified that the 12 habits that commonly held women back were different; they were more about fitting in and having to adapt as they faced different challenges to men as they developed their careers, such as Reluctance to claim your achievements, The disease to please, and The perfection trap. 

This book recognises that the workplace playing field is not fair and needs to change, but in the meantime, identifying how the habits that you have developed to cope, and which may be holding you back, allows you to overcome them and show yourself in the best light.

I particularly like How Women Rise. It is more recent and resonates with me to a greater degree than What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There. I also think that there are habits in both books that you may recognise in yourself. As leaders, managing women and men, it is important that we think about how society and the workplace affect how people show up and our responsibility as leaders to create an even playing field for all – this is far broader than men and women and is about equality of opportunity for all.

In coaching, we use various techniques to gather feedback on how the client is perceived by those around them and then use the coaching space as a facilitated self-reflection place to explore what the client recognises/needs to recognise and wants/needs to act upon. These 360 feedback sessions are often the element of coaching that clients feel most nervous about but delivered carefully, they unlock the client to open up to deeper self-reflection and commitment to change.

So, I will leave you with four questions to consider:

  • How often do you make time for self-reflection?
  • How do you gather feedback on how you are perceived by those around you?
  • What is this telling you about any habits that you may need to address?
  • How are you going to go about addressing them?

As always, please get in touch if you have any questions on these, or indeed any of the points raised above.

From the author:

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