Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

7 Steps To Becoming A Happier, Higher-Performing Leader

Discover 7 steps that can help leaders build habits that will help them not only become higher-performing leaders, but happier ones too.

The following is a guest piece by Jennifer Moss.

From growing a successful start-up, to writing a book and speaking internationally about workplace culture, to making a solid attempt at being a decent wife and mother of three kids; I require an enormous amount of mental bandwidth. I’m sure many of you reading this blog are in the same boat.

But, my question to you is: Are you building the right habits? The kind of habits that make you happier, more emotionally intelligent? The kind of habits that build up your psychological fitness so you can emulate positive and empathetic leadership?

We tend to think that healthy habits are correlated to better eating or working out. But, what if I told you that emotional healthiness is the precursor to improved physical health and higher performance at work and in life. Good mental health habits free up space in the conscious decision-making area of the brain so you better attend to other priorities. As a leader, this is enormously helpful.

To ensure I formed new and improved current leadership habits, I developed a standard for building habits that stick. The P.E.R.S.I.S.T. model is based on existing research correlated to well-being and performance. This model continues to support my personal development routine and hopefully, it can support your efforts as well:

Building a habit is already challenging. It takes time and intention. So, if you want to change a behavior over time, make it a practical choice.

Want to be a more empathetic leader, try listening more. Take a meeting and increase the time you’re listening by 20% – you will be surprised by your employees’ increasing trust and willingness to open up emotionally.

Want to know how your employees are feeling about the culture at work? Ask them more regularly. Start gathering insights by asking your team to share anonymously. Respond with honest, authentic, and practical answers about how you’re going to fix the short-term issues and discuss long term strategies with your team as well.

The more habitually you check in with your employees and speed up the feedback loop, the faster you build up trust – one of the biggest determinants of a healthy (or conversely, unhealthy) workplace culture.

2. Enduring
Keep in mind that building good habits should not reach an end and looking for that “out” will derail your efforts. Focus instead on thinking about this effort as a permanent change to your ingrained, patterned behavior. And remember to choose your habits wisely because the change often has a ripple effect.

3. Repeatable
Make it a daily intervention. Our brains are lazy and want to travel the fastest pathways. If we practice a habit daily, the plastic part of our brain will start to change, eventually turning that habit into a long-term behavior. Remember, habit building is not a diet – it’s a lifestyle change. With effort, you can change any behavior permanently.

4. Simplified
Keeping the tasks simple will yield a quicker path to automaticity. More complex habits will take longer so break down the goal into simple steps with quick wins.

Want a quick mood boost while simultaneously increasing your cognitive mindfulness? Take two minutes as you walk into work and analyze it with a filter of positivity. Take a moment as you walk by your team and think of one great thing they’ve done this week to make your life easier.

Smile. Smell your coffee a little longer. Take four deep breaths when you sit down to your desk and then begin. Try this twice this week, then three times the week following.

5. Incremental
Want to get up earlier? Rather than make a big move and set your clock for 4:00 AM, start by setting your clock five minutes earlier until the desired wake time has been reached. Incremental changes versus sweeping changes will develop more sustainable habits.

6. Short
Keep the amount of time spent on developing a habit inside a short timeframe. We don’t require hours of yoga every day to become more mindful. Start with two minutes of quiet, focused breathing once per day – then twice. It should feel like more of the same activity versus a huge investment of time all at once.

7. Targeted
Keep in mind that 21 days to build a habit is a myth. Trust that by following a routine and making small, incremental steps (whether it takes 18 or 180 days) will eventually build the behavior that forms a habit.

P.E.R.S.I.S.T. was a terrific way to keep me motivated and on track. And, I continue to enjoy all the positive benefits of a more organized personal and professional life. My brain bandwidth is focused on the immediate decisions at hand, and my subconscious brain is reminding me to act with compassion, emotional control, hopefulness, gratitude, resilience and a host of other traits that maintain my happiness on a daily basis.

Now that we have the science to explain how habits are formed in the brain and a few examples of how that healthy habit can be formed into everyday behaviors, why not put the learning into practice with the following activities:

1. Get to know your team
Once a week when you grab a coffee or a snack, find an opportunity to drop by the desk of a staff member and ask them a novel question. Encourage your staff to engage with each other in the same way. One connection might lead to more opportunities for collaboration.

2. The habit of thanks
Before you close your laptop or sign off for the day, send out a thank you email/tweet or text to someone for a job well done. It only requires two minutes of your time, but it offers huge payoffs to your people and is a “selfish” way of improving our personal well-being.

3. Walking meetings
I’ve explained the science, and how to build the habit, now it’s your turn to take the next meeting standing up, or walking around. And no excuses! We often think that we’re too far behind on our workload to move from our desk and our work, but the opposite is true. The more we get up and stretch and move, the more productive we are.

Jennifer Moss is the author of “Unlocking Happiness at Work” and the co-founder of Plasticity Labs, a technology startup that produces software to measure organizational culture, inform leaders of their current and ongoing social/emotional state, and improve employee happiness at work. Moss is a Harvard Business Review and Huffington Post contributor and delivers talks across the world on the subject of happiness and gratitude at work (recent appearances include SXSW, TEDXWomen and the Chatelaine’s W100).

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