“Identify Habits that are Harming your Career”
You know it by now. You’re the result of your habits.
But what you might not realize is that while certain habits might have gotten you to where you are on the career ladder, at some point, they have actually stopped your climb, despite your having aimed your best towards professional development goals for managers.
I’ll illustrate this with a story from my own everyday life. Usually, my daughter takes the school bus to school. But a few months ago, she had to bring in quite a few supplies for a school project, so she asked me to drive her to school, and of course I agreed. After my frantic morning routine of getting dressed, gulping down a cup of coffee and gathering my briefcase, we got into the car to head for her school. Or so I had intended.
As I switched into the lane leading to the highway, my daughter yelled out, “Mom, where are you going? I’m going to be late for school!” Pretty confused, I slammed on the brakes and realized that I was driving towards my office. It seemed that my habit of driving to work had overtaken my intention to take my daughter to school. I made a u-turn and luckily got her to school on time. My habit of following a certain route to work had served me well - until this particular day. If you are conscious of your habits (unlike I was), then you become aware of when they are helpful and when they are not.
I’m sure you can recall a version of this story in your own life. Now let’s see how it all works.
Studies show that about 40% of your daily decisions are made automatically - without a second thought, so to speak. This allows the other 60% of your brain to take in and process new information. In order to maintain this ratio, your brain is constantly identifying repeated behaviors and turning them into automatic habits, through your brain’s natural compression mechanism. With this mechanism in place, you can actually learn to compress your unhelpful habits - allowing room for your potential habits to be discovered and developed. This should be a significant part of the professional development goals for managers.
At this point, you might be wondering if you have any unhelpful habits that need compressing. The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” I’ll explain.
As you already know, automatic habits are wonderful for getting things done quickly and efficiently, not requiring a minute’s thought. The downside, however, is when they take charge in situations in which they shouldn’t (like in my story above). Now let’s take a business example.
As a middle manager, you might be appreciated for knowing every detail of every project, poised to make quick and efficient decisions, thus driving projects ahead at the speed of light. However, what happens when moving up in the ranks of your company requires releasing some control and nurturing a team to take on responsibilities? Your natural instinct is to take over and decide for them, while what you really need to do is develop the ability to let your team come up with decisions, even if it means they might struggle a bit. As you can see, here you must hold back on your habit for quick, accurate decisionmaking and allow room for a less developed habit, nurturing your team. This is the process of “growing” as a manager, which will lead you to future career success.
One word of warning: there are many programs out there that claim to have isolated the most needed habits for you to take on easily and painlessly. The sad result of such programs is that like everything else forced on you, you’ll probably drop such “cookie-cutter” habits as soon as you can (think of some of the fad diets out there). On the other hand, if you concentrate on discovering and developing your own innate habits, you’ll be working on something that comes naturally to you - and therefore much more likely to stick and serve you for years to come.
And always remember:
Great managers are made. Not born.
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