Time to say goodbye to bad habits

To truly excel at what we do, we need to achieve excellence over and over again. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is thus not an act, but a habit, and it’s one that every manager needs to cultivate, says Peter Hughes.

Time to say goodbye to bad habits
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Do you interrupt and finish other people’s sentences? Do you find yourself frequently peering over the shoulder of a subordinate to make sure he or she is not making a hash of a task?

Do you grapple with priorities in your life, missing deadlines, and making bad choices?

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, ‘habits’ is Stephen Covey’s shorthand for instinctive, deep-seated behavioural patterns that have a positive or negative impact on your personal effectiveness, your colleagues, and, ultimately, the business.

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Thinking managers should aspire to always behave in a manner that brings positive benefits to their colleagues and business, but habits are difficult to change, and often entirely unconscious.

The term ‘habit’ has become widely accepted among students of management, who have produced a plethora of publications of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ habits and advice on how to replace the bad with the good. A Google search for ‘management habits’ triggers a wealth of references.

Let’s explore a few of them:

“Communication is the most important skill in life,” says Covey, and he exhorts managers to “seek first to understand and then to be understood”.

Think about it. The focus of education is on learning to read, write and speak. Have you ever had any training on how to listen? To fully understand the point being made by the speaker?

Most people are planning their reply while they listen, rather than truly listening to understand. Great managers have a habit of listening more than they talk.

Good managers make it quite clear what they expect from their employees. They provide their full support and assistance, and leave the person alone to get on with the job. If you watch every move by an employee and demand frequent progress reports, you are guilty of ‘micro-managing’. It’s a clear signal you don’t trust the person concerned to deliver the results you require.

Micro-management is about control, not management. It stifles the employee’s growth and development, distracts the manager from focusing on the big picture, and damages the trust essential for a productive relationship.

Which comes first?
The decisions you make about what to do with your time will determine your future. Few of the many ‘time management’ systems developed have survived for extended practical use; Covey’s is a rare exception.

His ‘time management matrix’, which we’ve discussed before, and which focuses on the ‘urgency’ versus the ‘importance’ of tasks and opportunities, will enable you to prioritise the time you devote to meeting these two competing demands.

If you are bowled over by urgent but unimportant matters, develop the habit of using Covey’s system.

Bad habits

We all have bad habits, and most of us are guilty of at least some of the following:

Lack of courtesy
Are you sometimes discourteous? Do you fail to greet your staff, for example? A pleasant greeting can go a long way.

Do you have a chronically pessimistic outlook on life? This can kill new ideas and demoralise staff, and should be avoided at all costs.

Know it all
Are you someone who has ‘seen it all before’ and always has a better solution? This, too, extinguishes initiative and creativity in staff.

Not walking the talk
Have you ever had to say, “Do as I say, not as I do?” Hopefully not, as this damages integrity and trust.

Refusing to apologise
When you’ve made a mistake, are you quick to apologise, and to do so properly? Pay heed to this advice from the East: ‘If you are going to bow, bow low.’ An insincere apology is an insult and can damage the relationship even further.

Discover your habits

Are you aware of your bad habits? There’s an easy way to find out: just ask. Ask your friends, peers and boss, and insist on the brutal truth.

Best of all, have a professional third-party survey done, with anonymous views solicited from your seniors, your peers and your subordinates. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find out!

Make this the year you replace bad habits with good ones.

Peter Hughes is a business and management consultant.