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7 Healthy Habits for Leaders

Inspired by Atomic Habits author James Clear's tour we look at leader habits


Steve Grace, the CEO of work-life balance publication Balance the Grind (pictured above) is a great study for understanding the power of developing healthy habits. 

For a start, he has a growth mindset and has read Atomic Habits by James Clear three times! On the third read through he decided to really embrace healthy habits. 

“This time I decided I was working too late and drinking too much too often, so I started to exercise more, a little bit each day, and now 3 months on I am training for an Ironman 70.3,” he told us. 

Given Healthy Habits are in the spotlight this week as the 2023 theme for international Men's Health Week, we thought we’d look into 7 areas leaders can develop healthy habits in today, plus share great insights and quotes from James Clear's Atomic Habits. 

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Setting up your environment to succeed

As habits expert James Clear explained in our Atomic Habits James Clear LIVE events, there are key principles for building and sustaining effective habits. 

If you’re a leader keen to ensure your healthy habits stick, James Clear recommends you: 

  • Make habits obvious. Create visual cues in the workplace to remind yourself and your team of the desired behaviours. For example, display core values prominently, use visual reminders of goals, or implement daily huddles to reinforce priorities.
  • Optimise your environment. Design your workspace to support healthy habits. Arrange your desk for productivity, provide access to nutritious snacks, and promote physical activity by encouraging walking meetings or standing workstations.
  • Implement habit stacking. Attach new habits to existing routines or rituals to ensure their consistency. For instance, establish a habit of expressing gratitude during team meetings or taking a short walk after lunch to boost creativity and productivity.

7 healthy habits for leaders 

Note that CEO Steve Grace credits exercising “a little bit each day” for making his dream of an ironman possible. 

“This is something I could never have believed I could do at my age (about to be 50) but through small incremental changes I have been blown away,” he says. 

Daily habits are more powerful than we think. As James Clear says in Atomic Habits

 "It is only when looking back 2, 5, or 10 years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones become strikingly apparent."

So, with that in mind, look at your leadership through the lens of your daily habits. What little improvement can you make each day that will move the needle? Here are some ideas: 

Create a Habit of Learning

According to Boston Consulting Group, the winners of tomorrow will be those that can accelerate their rate of learning.

In an article titled ‘Why It's Time to Bring Learning to the C-suite’, BCG says leaders must make their ecosystems learning systems, and learning should be a C-suite priority. It recommends: 

Make a daily habit of reading books, articles, and industry publications. Attend conferences, masterclasses, and online events. Stay updated on the latest trends and best practices within your field and encourage your team members to do the same. 

In other words, build a learning habit at work by creating a corporate “learnscape” - lead by example and enthuse about learning! 

Create a Habit of Communicating Better

Time and again we hear that communication is the heart of successful leadership. By focusing on improving this skill, you improve loyalty, understanding, collaboration, and trust within your team. 

Here are a few habits to cultivate:

  • Active listening. Coaching expert Michael Bungay Stanier said in his How to Work with (Almost) Anyone masterclass for Growth Faculty it is a great habit to give your full attention to others when they are speaking. Maintain eye contact, refrain from giving advice (tame your advice monster, he says!), ask clarifying questions, and demonstrate empathy. Active listening fosters stronger relationships and promotes a culture of open communication.

  • Clear and concise messaging. Develop the habit of being clear, concise, and easily understandable. As Brené Brown has said, Clear is Kind, Unclear is Unkind. Use simple language, avoid jargon, and tailor your message to suit different audiences and communication channels.

  • Regular check-ins. Make a habit of being a bit more ad-hoc. Say ‘hi’. Set aside time for a chat as well as regular one-on-one meetings with your team members. These meetings provide an opportunity to provide feedback, address concerns, and offer support. These habits help to create an environment where individuals feel noticed, heard. and valued.

Make Healthy Work-Life Balance a Habit

Since the pandemic there’s been more focus on striking a balance between work and personal life. It’s great for the retention and the wellbeing of your staff, as well as the long-term success of you as a leader. 

As a role model to others, you play a vital role in promoting a healthy work-life balance within your organisation. Consider the following habits:

  • Encourage time off. It sounds counterintuitive but encourage your team members to take regular breaks and holidays. Do so yourself, and emphasise the importance of rest and rejuvenation, as it enhances productivity and prevents burnout.

  • Flexible work. Your team members are human and they have to juggle their lives just as you do. Granting flexibility allows employees to better manage personal obligations while still meeting work commitments. “Monkey see, monkey do” - so be flexible yourself. 

  • Delegate and empower. Avoid shouldering an excessive workload and learn to delegate. Empower your team members by providing them with opportunities for growth and autonomy. Delegation not only relieves stress for you, but also nurtures a sense of ownership and shared responsibility in others.

Create a Culture of Excellence Habit

"The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do." - James Clear

 Every culture starts and ends with the habits and behaviours you yourself demonstrate as a leader. If you want others to be excellent, pay attention to what you do daily. Here are some habits to improve your workplace culture:

  • Lead by example. They’re watching your every move so model the values and behaviours you want to see in your team. Be consistent in striving for excellence, having integrity and empathy, and communicating clearly and transparently.

  • Encourage collaboration. Foster a culture that values teamwork and collaboration. Encourage employees to share ideas, listen actively, and recognise and celebrate collective achievements.

  • Embrace diversity and inclusion. Create an environment where individuals from different backgrounds or with different personal preferences or traits feel welcomed, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives.

Create a Habit of Prioritising Self-Care

As regular Growth Faculty speaker Kevin Lawrence says in his book “Your Oxygen Mask First” neglecting self-care can lead to burnout and hinder your ability to lead effectively. 

Here are some self-care habits to incorporate into your routine:

Set boundaries. Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Allocate time for activities that recharge you mentally, physically, and emotionally, such as exercise, hobbies, and spending quality time with loved ones.

Practice mindfulness. Writing about healthy habits for leaders, Chelsea Pottenger is a fan of building mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, into your daily routine. These practices can help reduce stress, increase focus, and enhance overall well-being.

Regularly evaluate and adjust. Take time to reflect on your habits, routines, and goals. Consistently reassess and adjust your approach to ensure you are aligned with your personal and professional aspirations.

Make a Habit of Creating a Positive Work Environment

There’s a lot that’s been written about the extraordinary power of a positive team. For a start, positive teams outperform negative teams. 

Research shows your leadership style affects those around you. In other words - you bring the weather! So shape the culture by promoting positivity and fostering a sense of belonging with these habits:

  • Lead with gratitude. Develop a habit of regularly acknowledging and appreciating the contributions of your team members. Recognise their efforts publicly, provide constructive feedback, and celebrate achievements to cultivate a positive atmosphere.

  • Encourage work-life integration: Embrace the blending of personal and professional lives in a harmonious way. Offer support for work-life integration initiatives such as flexible schedules, family-friendly policies, and wellness programs.

  • Conflict resolution. Encourage team members to address conflicts respectfully, directly, and constructively. Conflict isn’t bad per se, but it does need a base of trust to ensure it doesn’t get personal or hurtful. 

Create a Habit of Getting Enough Sleep

Finally, a McKinsey study found 43% of business leaders interviewed feel they do not get enough sleep at least four nights a week.

It found that after hours of “wakeful slumber”, these leaders struggled to recall simple facts, seemed disengaged and uninspired, lacked patience with others, and couldn't think through problems or reach clear-cut decisions.

Sleep experts recommend 1.5 hours of deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep within 7-9 hours total. Chelsea Pottenger recommends adopting these habits for a pre-sleep routine: 

  • Jump off the screens half an hour before your bedtime.
  • Turn off half the lights at 8 p.m.
  • Avoid powerful overhead lights. Invest in a warm-light bedside lamp.
  • Read a paperback; nothing too heavy.
  • Install blockout curtains, or wear a sleep mask.
  • If you suffer insomnia: Write in a journal, listen to a sleep story or guided meditation, count backwards from 1000. If you are still awake after 20-30 mins get up and do something relaxing, then return to bed.

By embracing healthy habits, leaders can elevate their personal wellbeing, cultivate an environment of excellence, and inspire their teams to reach new heights. 

As Steve Grace says:

“This has given me better mental health, better focus, more positively really improved every aspect of my life, it has also made me look at other aspects where I can small changes that just compound.” 

Remember, small changes and consistent efforts can have a profound impact on your own life and the lives of those you lead. As we celebrate Healthy Habits for Men's Health Week 2023, let all of us be reminded to strive to prioritise healthy habits and create a positive ripple effect within our workplace. 

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Image: Steve Grace, CEO of Balance the Grind, from Balance the Grind website. 


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