Four Habits That Define Great Leaders

What makes a leader great? In my work with over five thousand leaders I’ve found there are four traits all powerful leaders have in common.

These leaders are master motivators, expert talent evaluators, powerful communicators and are courageous enough to serve their people by sharing the critical feedback each person needs to grow.

Underneath each of these traits are habits. No great manager goes into the day saying, “I’m going to motivate my team today”. Instead, they practice the habit of listening with intention and attention which enables them to motivate and engage their team.

So, what are the essential habits of a leader?

1) The Habit of Listening with Intention and Attention — When you take the time to have a REAL conversation with your employee, you help her feel seen and heard. You gain valuable insights into her needs and it gives you the opportunity to support her growth in ways beyond simply providing a raise or job promotion.

2) The Habit of Asking Powerful Questions — Powerful questions are an important component of leading others because they evoke clarity, create greater possibility, reveal new learning and generate action — all of which help a leader in evaluating their team and making better business decisions.

3) The Habit of Communicating Directly — When leaders are direct in their communication, they create a learning culture — a place where, instead of worrying about company politics, the team focuses on moving towards the shared vision. Through the practice of communicating directly, leaders enhance their ability to more rapidly achieve desired outcomes.

4) The Habit of Holding Critical Conversations — Critical conversations are ones where the stakes are higher than normal feedback, it’s where the way you approach the situation can significantly affect the performance of an individual, group or the entire company. By developing this habit, managers set themselves up in the best position for holding a productive critical conversation — and allow themselves to down the lag time between incident and resolution.

Unfortunately, most managers are thrust into management positions because they are either top performers or because they’ve been around the longest — not because they have the habits to be a successful manager.

Rarely are employees moved into leadership positions because they exhibit these habits and are great leaders of people. In fact, Gallup recently came out with a study showing less than 1 out of every 5 managers naturally exhibit the skills of great leaders.

Yet this number does not have to be static — these habits are learnable for those managers and companies who are committed to taking action and growing their leadership toolkit.

Through deliberate practice and commitment, managers can become masterful leaders.

Managers can begin to learn, apply and practice the small actions until they reach a level where it comes natural to implement in daily life — until it becomes habit.

But how can I learn these habits?

Imagine you are walking through a field of ten-foot-high tall grass. You know you want to get to the other end of the field, but you have no idea how to get there.

Forming a new habit is like walking straight into the field, without a map or a path to follow. Once you walk in, it can often be scary, overwhelming and tiring.

Frustrated, you notice a paved pathway on your left. You can see the pathway doesn’t lead to where you want to go — but it’s there and you’re tired and it’s easier than walking through this tall grass. The paved pathway is your Blind Spot. It’s your habitual thought and behavior patterns which hold you back from adopting a new habit.

Once you do notice your Blind Spot, you can refocus on where you want to go — on adopting the new habit. Eventually you will find your way out of the field, on your new path. Although the first trip through the field was hard, the more often you take the path, the more you mat down the grass, the more signs you put along the route, the easier it becomes for you to take the path. To act in this new way, the more habitual it becomes.

Through the process of learning the habit, walking through the tall grass — continuing to be deliberate in your practice and intentional about your actions, you can quickly adopt and implement these four leadership habits into your everyday life.

Originally published in Forbes on November 1, 2017.