Chicago—“In my heart of hearts, I’m convinced that everyone on our team works hard and is doing a good job,” Kelly explained over lunch, “but for the life of me, I think we’ve developed some bad habits that are holding us back.”

Kelly was hitting on a topic that’s been around forever.  She was addressing an area that was holding her team back in the same insidious manner that interferes with the performance of many teams. 

The challenge in addressing habits is that they’re personal.  You can have a team atmosphere, esprit de corps, camaraderie and the like, but habit patterns are very individualized. 

Years ago PBS ran two exceptional television series titled, The Mind and The Brain.  The series on the brain was based on science, using Dr. Roger Sperry’s split-brain research as the framework, and it answered many questions for the layperson. The series on the mind, while equally fascinating, raised more questions than it answered.   However, experts agree on one thing—the mind is what sets us apart from every other species on our planet.  How we think can help us remain healthy or prone to illness; it determines whether we focus on life’s problems or solutions, and whether we’re constructive or destructive in our thinking. 

The challenge for Kelly and every team leader is to recognize the power of the human mind, because how people use their mind determines the habits they develop: attitudinal and behavioral.

Most people think of habits in a behavioral context: eating, smoking, work ethic, exercise, and so on.  But as I explained to Kelly, the command center for all habits is the mind. True achievers, people who get things done, have developed the habit of using their mind constructively. This creates good energy, a focus on solutions rather than obstacles, and tends to attract good things into their lives. 

Because we live in a world dominated by negative media where every obstacle is magnified into a “crisis event,” many people develop the habit of using their mind destructively.  They worry, focus on problems, and unwittingly develop a habit that will hold them back throughout their lives. 

So as we take a deeper dive into the realm of habits, consider the following:

·      We’re all creatures of habits.

·      Habits are attitudinal and behavioral.

·      Our habits determine both our happiness and level of achievement.

·      A team is a collection of individual habits.

·      Most people strive to be happy and achieve at higher levels.

·      Individual performance is linked to individual habits.

·      Adults develop the habit of staying within their comfort zone, which keeps them from achieving at higher levels.

·      Most people need assistance (leadership/coaching) to break out of self-limiting habits.

Using the above as a starting point, I handed Kelly a legal pad and asked her to write the name of each team member at the top of a blank page.  You might want to do the same, as this is a good team leader exercise.  I then asked her to draw a line down the middle of each page and label Attitude on the left and Behavior on the right.

Next she was to think of four broad professional categories.  She came up with team goals, knowledge and skill development, self-direction, and openness to change.   I then asked her to paraphrase a comment per individual in relation to each category and their corresponding behavior, using the following from her team member Julie as an example:

Julie                                Attitude                                                                   Behavior

Team Goals:               “They’re Kelly’s goals.”                                On task, but nothing more.

Knowledge &

Skill Development:      “I don’t have time to learn this …”                Resistant to change.

You get the idea.  People develop attitudinal habits that impact their behavior.  The two examples I shared with Kelly were of the subtle but destructive nature; I guessed at the comments, and she added the behavior.

Before diving into this exercise, take a moment to reflect on both constructive and destructive  statements that you hear.  The constructive statements are easy but the destructive are often subtle.  As our discussion continued, Kelly concluded that two of her support personnel were subtly destructive, with one being more of an influence than the other. 

The purpose of this exercise is to determine the attitudinal habits that individuals have developed.  These habits are never neutral.  They set the stage for all of our other habits, but because of their intangible nature they’re rarely addressed.

Once you’ve identified this attitudinal habit, your challenge is to recognize every destructive statement and rephrase it into something constructive.  For instance:

“I think our current process work just fine.”   It does, but we can and must improve it.

“The bigger the client, the bigger the ego.”  That’s why they’re successful. They’re good people; get to know them, ask about their family—remember, they pay us a lot of money.

This will take time, but if you recognize these subtly destructive comments, rephrase them and hold people accountable for corresponding behavior. You’ll be a change agent at the highest level. In that spirit, let me share with you a wonderful poem on habits.

Habits

I am your constant companion.

I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden.

I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.

I am completely at your command.

Half the things you do, you might just as well turn over to me, and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.

 

I am easily managed – you must merely be firm with me.

Show me exactly how you want something done, and after a few lessons, I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great people;

And alas, of all failures as well.

Those who are great, I have made great.

Those who are failures, I have made failures.

 

I am not a machine,

Though I work with all the precision of a machine

Plus the intelligence of a human.

You may run me for a profit or run me for ruin –

It makes no difference to me.

 

Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet.

Be easy with me, and I will destroy you.

Who Am I?  I AM Habit!

--- Anonymous