I’ve learned that great leaders have one key thing in common – daily habits. During my career, I’ve studied and learned from many leaders and have found 11 common habits and mindsets among those who are truly exceptional. Whether you’re a first-time manager or a tenured CEO, these mentalities and methods will inspire new thought processes, generate new ideas, help you find inspiration, and will challenge you in different ways on a daily basis. The result? The ability to execute. We’re in a results-driven society and when it comes to business, outcomes are all that matters. Adopting this list will yield exciting outcomes, and I have conviction on these because I’ve flipped a script for myself.
1. Wake up early
Work out and prioritize physical activity every day. Take care of you.
My morning routine is my offense. I talked about it in my last blog and the difference it has made for me, personally. I get up around 6 am every morning to walk or jog. This investment in my health energizes me and prepares me for the day.
Spend 10-15 mins every day in reflection, prayer, or meditation.
When I reflect, I think back to where I was and where my organization was a year to five years ago. I recall important lessons I learned through mistakes or successes. I also think about where we’re going and where the market is going. You can’t predict the macroeconomics, but if you see a pothole in the right lane, you’ll know to get in the left lane. Don’t spend too much time thinking about the past. Most good leaders have a short memory and focus on the future and the next opportunity.
3. Set midday goals
Make sure by midday you’ve done the hardest thing that you needed to do that day.
Oftentimes you’ll build a task list and start checking off the things that you like to do that aren’t as critical rather than the things you don’t like to do that are critical. They could be writing, thinking, a strategy meeting, or something difficult that you don’t want to do, but they’re critical. Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix explains the concept of differentiating and prioritizing important, not important, urgent, and non-urgent tasks and uses a quadrant format to help you organize your work.
Regularly take action to inspire your team.
True leaders have a following and prioritize inspiring their following. Inspiring leaders are also motivating. Motivation is internal, inspiration is external, and they go hand-in-hand. By seeking to inspire your team, you’re also cultivating their internal motivation. You can create an inspiring video or audio message, share something you’ve found inspiring, and even participate with them in something. Getting in the trenches with your team is a form of active inspiration.
I don’t believe in a work-life balance. I believe it’s all relative.
If you want to be truly successful and live like no one else, there are seasons when you’re going to have to work your ass off. You’re going to work 10 to 16 hour days pretty routinely. You don’t do this forever. At the end of the day there isn’t a secret formula, but nobody who’s had any level of success achieved it without working hard. There are two quotes from Gary Vaynerchuck that sum up this truth: “The secret to success is this: work harder. When you think you’ve worked your hardest, go even deeper.” And, “It’s hustle, not talent that is the differentiator between entrepreneurs who succeed and those who don’t.”
6. Learn and consume
Great leaders are always learning something new.
You may think you don’t have time, but learning can be as easy as listening to a podcast or book while walking or driving. You could study a leadership principle or even something that has nothing to do with business or leadership; it could be something that opens up new ideas or creativity. Through learning, you’re instilling values and sharpening your mindset; wiring your brain to think bigger, think differently, be proactive, and be forward-thinking. Learning helps you keep your edge. There’s always somebody bigger, somebody doing something better. Know who your competitors are, always.
7. Stay on top of the business
Hire operators who can work in the business so you can work on the business.
I highly recommend a book called The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. It talks about the importance of hiring people to run the business so you’re less concerned about how many widgets are being sold that day. Instead, you can focus on the larger, broader picture and strategic vision. Leaders need to think about where the business could go, what mergers and acquisitions could be made, where the brand should go, the benefit of brand partnerships, and what new ideas you can bring to your customers. When you’re bogged down in the day to day, you miss the opportunity to drive those larger strategies.
8. Make sure your schedule allows for creativity and freedom.
Don’t book your entire day.
There’s a perspective in business that unless your calendar is packed you aren’t as busy as you need to be. It’s a misnomer. Leaders like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet (the unicorns that have achieved extraordinary greatness) are very, very, very protective of their time. They don’t pack themselves out on a daily basis. They’re very conscious of what’s important and urgent versus what isn’t.
Make it happen. No excuses.
You’ve got people who watch what happens, people who make things happen, and people who wonder what happened. Real leaders are not afraid to execute. They make things happen, and they help and guide others while they execute. Hire a strong team of people who make things happen so you can stay on top of the business. Great leaders can differentiate when they’re hiring folks, which of those three types of people they are.
10. Take Calculated Risks
Don’t overthink. Move fast.
There will be times to move fast and times to be slow and strategic. You’ll learn how to differentiate by your daily habits, what you’re consuming, and how you’re learning. And frankly, sometimes your learning will be through failure. Trying new things and pushing yourself comes with the risk of failure. But great leaders don’t necessarily look at every mistake or failure as a negative because they’re optimistic. They consider the experience as an opportunity to learn. Through failure you’ll know what could have happened or how it should have gone and what you can do next. The mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work unless it’s open. Good leaders embrace that truth and they continue to challenge the status quo and take risks.
11. Always give back
Constantly ask yourself how you can help others.
I believe in the truest law of reaping and sowing. It’s the analogy of taking the time to plant small seeds in order to reap a great harvest. And it doesn’t always have to be a huge act. Think about how small a seed is in comparison to the size of a fully grown tree. Start by asking how you can provide more value. How can you help? That’s how you plant those small seeds and you’ll reap what you sow.
There’s a word that encapsulates all of this, and it’s discipline. Great leaders are extremely disciplined. There are no ifs ands or buts about it. It’s hard, but that’s what makes it so beautiful. When it comes to success, there’s this deserve it factor. Do you deserve it? Society or the market will decide if you deserve it by whether you work hard enough to earn it. Success isn’t tied to a lottery or a quick money scheme. If you deserve it, you have the ability to make it happen and you’re doing the daily things that allow you to be more effective as an individual. When you cultivate these daily habits into your routine you’ll start to see things differently. You’ll start to work harder and success is when hard work and opportunity intersect. You’ll understand the macro and the micro. You’ll have a long term, big picture understanding because you’ve been soaking in knowledge on a daily basis and getting around people that are further along than you are, possibly more intelligent, or have had more problems to solve. Elon Musk says this all the time, “You are paid in direct proportion to the difficulty of the problems that you solve.” This is the man who wants to colonize Mars.
Success is really simple – you can’t cut corners. Anything gained quickly is lost just as quickly. There aren’t shortcuts. Success is in the daily habits, and all of these daily habits play off of each other, on top of a foundation of discipline. This is how you earn it, deserve it, and achieve it.