Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” 

For leaders, good habits promote a healthy and thriving organizational culture. By making positive behaviors habitual, we not only free up mental bandwidth for employees to use on other tasks, but we also increase psychological safety by being more predictable and consistent.

Andrew Sykes is the CEO and Founder of Habits at Work, a corporate training company based in Chicago. He explains that you really are defined by your habits, so if you want to become the leader who employees are committed to supporting, it’s essential to practice the habits that help you show up and stand out at work.

What do these habits look like, exactly? According to Sykes, there are three fundamental behaviors to develop in order to become a magnetic manager and cultivate engaged and happy employees:

Ask for, receive, and use feedback.

How do you become remarkably good at something? You engage in deliberate practice with feedback.

Sykes says one clear path to becoming a better leader is to take the time to ask for feedback. Ask employees how you’re doing as a manager, then use that feedback to make changes in areas that need improvement. For strategies on seeking feedback, refer to this earlier blog post.

Keep in mind this important distinction: Positive habits are different from repetitive practice, which is just doing the same thing over and over again. Repetitive practice does lead to experience, but even a lot of experience doesn’t guarantee you will master your art. It’s deliberate practice that makes people the genesis of genius.

Listen empathetically.

When an employee or colleague is speaking, listen intentionally, Sykes states. We tend to think we listen with our ears, but when we’re determining if someone is really listening to us, we’re looking at whether their eyes are focused on us, and whether their body language and face reflects how we’re speaking and what we’re saying.

Empathetic listening is about identifying what really matters to people. If you’re able to comprehend how people feel based on how they are speaking and can respond accordingly, you’ll leave them feeling not just heard, but completely understood. This exchange establishes the emotional velcro that makes employees want to come to work every day and motivates them to perform at their best.

Ask the right questions.

There’s a strong link between empathetic listening and asking the right questions. When you listen empathetically, you have a greater understanding of the person you’re talking with, and you are in a position to ask questions that encourage more meaningful responses. Sykes points out how these responses can unlock new insights and pathways for action that likely weren’t apparent before. 

To do this intentionally in your own organization, turn your mission statement into a question. For example, the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group asks employees, “What’s one thing you can do to make the experience of the guest that’s in front of you right now either awesome or unique?” The answer changes each time based on the guest. The company has been able to scale great experiences for its guests with this critical question – it’s their secret competitive advantage.

Sykes says people tend to underestimate the power of habits because each individual habit on its own might seem small. However, he reminds us that who we are as human beings and who we become over time is determined by the habits we practice, so they deserve our valuable time and attention.

Key Takeaways:

  • You are defined by your habits, so if you want to become the kind of manager that staff are committed to supporting, practice habits that help you show up and stand out at work every day.
  • Develop the habits of deliberate practice with feedback, listening empathetically, and asking the right questions in order to become a magnetic leader.
  • Habits are typically underestimated because each one is small by itself. Collectively, though, these positive behaviors create a work environment where everyone can thrive.

Referenced resources:

3 Habits to Become a Magnetic Leader With Special Guest Andrew Sykes, Thrive By Design the Podcast, E3 Solutions.

Habits at Work,

The 11th Habits: Design Your Company Culture to Foster the Habits of High Performance, Andrew Sykes and Hanlie Van Wyk, Habits at Work.

Would you like to learn about additional positive habits that create an engaged workforce, as well as tips on turning around bad habits? Join the Manager Resource Center, our training platform dedicated to helping leaders thrive in their roles. Through a variety of articles, videos, tools, and additional resources, the Manager Resource Center equips you not only to develop high-performance teams, but to sustain your own leadership journey for a long-lasting impact.