Ensuring your leadership improvements stick

Let’s face it, breaking old habits is hard.  In fact, research suggests that building new habits is a LOT easier than breaking old ones (Duhigg, 2012).  Even so, a recent study revealed that it takes an average of around sixty-six days to change a habit (Lally et al, 2009).  So how can we shift our habits to help keep our careers on track and ensure that we remain productive at work?  And how can we get the most from training courses we attend to ensure that the improvements that we make at the time actually stick in the long term?

Our strengths-based approach to changing habits is based on the work of Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit (2012), and builds on decades of research. Just follow the simple steps below and work through the following coaching questions:

1. Decide what you want to change and why

Link this to your strengths, as our strengths are often driven by underlying motives, values and habits: do you want to change a habit to optimise a strength or reduce a performance risk area such as an overdone strength?

2. Be clear on the benefits of changing

Ask yourself…

  • What will the benefits be of doing things differently? How will it help you achieve your aspirations?
  • Are you motivated enough by the benefits/rewards?

3. Identify the trigger/cue (i.e. what happens that causes the habit)

Ask yourself…

  • In what situations does the habit you want to change occur?
  • Is there anything that reduces the likelihood of the habit occurring?

4. Replace the old habit with a new one that will help you gain the benefits outlined in Step 2

Ask yourself…

  • What existing strengths can you use to change your habit? For example, if you are not naturally good at detailed tasks like spreadsheet analysis, but you do have a strength of Results focus and/or you’re a morning person, try to get the analysis completed first thing in the morning
  • Who can you get involved who already demonstrates the habits and underlying strengths you are trying to develop?  What coaching and support do you need from them?

5. Practise, practise, practise until the new habit is natural

Ask yourself…

What can you do on a daily/weekly basis to track progress?
Who can help you stay on track?
How will you reward yourself for making progress?
If you follow these simple steps, you’ll put yourself in the best possible position to make lasting changes to your behaviour following on from training programmes, or from decisions you’ve made to break old patterns and build new ones.

Dr Paul Brewerton, MD, Strengthscope Ltd

Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit.  London UK: Random House.
Lally, P., van Jaarsfeld, C.H.M., Potts, H.W.W. & Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world.  European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 6, 998-1009.