Some of the best leaders I have met during the course of my work are brilliant people, most aren’t. Some of them possess an almost supernatural ability to connect or inspire, most don’t. What often set them apart from the leaders who could have been great and weren’t, was their choice of habits. Great leaders have great habits.
There’s a quote by Calvin Coolidge that says ,“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; un-rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
There are lots of famous examples. Stephen King , one of the most prolific and successful writers ever, writes ten pages every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekend or a holiday; the ten pages are a habit. Steve Jobs has a habit that helps him make great choices as he begins the day. In a commencement address at Stanford , he shared it with the students: “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
There are far too many wildly creative, charismatic, energized people who miss this part of the success equation. Most of us aren’t strong enough to make the most success-oriented choice on a consistent basis unless we create tools to help us focus on that path. Life is simply too hard, too fast and too complex to think that we possess enough sheer will to fight our way through productive daily patterns without the help of habits.
Habits are how our brain frees up thinking space. We typically don’t have to think much about how to brush our teeth, or shower, or drive. It’s during tasks like that when many of us do our best thinking because the activity we are involved in is a habit, and our brain does it automatically without much conscious help from us. This same feature of our brain can also drive incredible success if we harness it correctly. I’m sure we all know people addicted to food, and also people addicted to exercise. They’ve built habits around those things that either serve them well, or keep them from the very things they want most in life.
Habits take time to build. We have to exert a tremendous amount of energy, focus and willpower in the early stages to get things moving. But if we can get through that phase, the habits, in time, begin to drive themselves. That’s when we transition from working for our habits, to our habits working for us. The key is to consciously decide which ones we will build, instead of just letting them happen.
Yes we need to develop the right skills to help us become leaders who can make a difference. But we can all count way too many people who had the skills and still failed to accomplish all that they could, or wanted to. When we combine what we’re capable of, with habits that support success, we begin to unlock our full potential. That’s when we amaze ourselves and inspire others.
What habits do you need to be successful? Which ones have you already built, and which ones need some work? Pick one and put a conscious plan in place to develop it today.
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