What is the difference between a successful leader and someone seemingly lacking the ability to lead? Do you think it’s a tragic flaw in fate, or perhaps, the absence of aptitude? Well, if you asked us our answer would be…neither! Successful leaders aren’t born, they’re created, and what goes behind the results we see and admire, is a lot of discipline and commitment to certain regular habits.
You see, at the end of the day, we’re all creatures of habit. There isn’t a motivator as powerful in the realm of human behaviour, as established habits. Anybody trying to cut out junk from their usual diet or start consistently exercising would know, falling prey to old habits is a lot more likely than motivational books would lead us to believe. In that sense, habits are like subconscious background elements which, often without our awareness, impact what we do and how we behave. Not to mention, the habits we engage in everyday, compound over time to produce consequences. Whether these consequences add to your success or make achieving your goals all the more challenging, is entirely dependent on the kinds of habits you choose to build.
So, when it comes to examining what led to someone becoming a successful leader, good habits will always be at the forefront of the answer. Effective leaders don’t transform into high achievers overnight. Instead, they perform a certain behaviour at a certain time every day, and therefore build a foundation of solid beneficial habits. After a point, they don’t even have to muster the motivation to perform these actions regularly. These become so ingrained in their everyday routine, that it feels unnatural to skip a day!
If you’re looking for ideas to hone your leadership skills and become a highly efficient individual, start by reading about these 20 habits common in the lives of most successful leaders.
1. Wake up at a fixed time
When you wake up at a particular time every morning, you’re strengthening your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. It leads to both better quality of sleep at night and more wakefulness when you get out of bed. This fixed time sets the stage for a more structured day!
According to a Time profile written by Lev Grossman in 2012, Apple CEO Tim Cook wakes up at 3:45 AM every single day. Lido’s own CEO Sahil Sheth, wakes up like clockwork sharp at 4 AM every morning!
2. Establish a morning routine
What you do in the morning sets the tone for the rest of your day. Successful leaders are well aware of this fact, which is why they establish a sturdy morning routine. Your morning routine can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like. But the idea is to control your schedule from the moment you wake up, instead of your schedule assuming control of you.
Shashank ND, Co-founder and CEO of Practo, follows a productive morning routine to get a headstart on his day’s agenda. He wakes up at 4 AM every morning followed by tackling emails and planning the day ahead, first thing. After this, he heads for his morning workout, which can be a visit to the gym, a run, swimming or a game of squash. After exercise and breakfast, he reaches the office by 9 AM.
3. Organise the day before it begins
All successful leaders plan their day before beginning with their tasks. This habit also ties up with the last point we made, about you being in control of your schedule. When you create a blueprint of everything you need to get done in a day, you’re much more likely to stay on track and get around to achieving them, instead of getting distracted and spending time on irrelevant things.
Leo Babauta, author of the bestselling book Zen Habits, wakes up and drinks water first thing, immediately after which he writes down the 3 most important things (MIT) on his plate in the day.
4. Prioritise your tasks
When you write down your plan for the day, you’ll notice that certain tasks are more crucial to be completed than the rest. Prioritise these! Leaders have several things they need to get done in a day, but they manage their time by prioritising the most important and challenging tasks first. This ensures that they don’t spend too much time on insignificant tasks and have pending work pile up!
5. Clearly define your goals
Successful leaders set out to achieve certain goals every day. While they certainly have a schedule guiding their behaviour, they tweak this schedule to attain the objectives of the day. For a student, these goals can be reading 2 chapters or solving 2 sets of problems, but identifying the goals you want to work on each day is crucial to make sure you stay on track, AND have a measure to track your progress.
6. Read a wide range of books
Reading is always going to be one of the most effective habits for success. Bill Gates, Co-founder of Microsoft, reads 50 books a year. Talking about his habit of reading different kinds of books with Inc media, Gates shared that while he can travel anywhere and meet with anyone, reading is still the main way that he learns new things and tests his understanding.
7. Move your body
Every successful leader in the world makes it a practice to take diligent care of his or her body. This includes getting as much movement in a day as their schedule allows. In an interview with People magazine, Oprah Winfrey said “I try to do something every day that allows me to feel active,” Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, considers exercise a way to get more out of his already packed schedule.
8. Fuel your body
Just as important as getting exercise regularly, is giving your body the nutrition it needs to stay charged through the day. John Mackey, Founder & CEO of Whole Foods Market, has maintained a 100% plant based diet for 14 years. He sticks by 2 maxims for his daily nutrition – eat real food instead of processed food, and consume a whole lot of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains, and seeds.
9. Keep learning
Another point of commonality between successful leaders is that they believe in continued regular learning, regardless of the heights they achieve in their lives. Whether it’s from a friend, a tutor, or even the internet, maintaining a learning mindset will help you strengthen existing skills and build a diverse set of abilities. It also expands your knowledge of the world around you!
Laura Roeder, founder of MeetEdgar, begins every day by listening to podcasts on a variety of subjects while preparing her breakfast. This allows her to both tackle an important chore, and learn something new during it!
10. Track your thoughts
Most successful leaders firmly believe in the power of reflecting and writing down their thoughts. And the most commonly used tool for doing so, is maintaining a journal. When you make it a habit to track your thoughts and emotions in a journal or diary, it becomes much easier to keep track of both the progress you’ve made, and the struggles you’ve been through. It helps you strategize, plan ahead, and keep your mind healthy.
In a 2012 interview on his designation as Time’s “Person of the Year” Barack Obama said “In my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are. The process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.”
11. Challenge yourself
Great leaders believe in consistently challenging themselves. That could be by way of taking risks, tackling difficult projects, or trying to learn new skills. But the practice of exercising their brain muscles and broadening their knowledge by taking on new challenges is a must for continued learning.
Michael Clemons, the former football star and current vice-chair of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, talking about his natural drive to continue learning famously quoted “I am my greatest challenge.”.
12. Limit entertainment and social media
As one can imagine, nearly all successful leaders abstain from activities meant purely for entertainment like watching TV or scrolling through social media, at least until they’ve completed everything they set out to get done in a day. It all ties up with prioritising your activities. If you want to learn from the greatest leaders of the world, limit all forms of entertainment to the end of the day. Otherwise, 20 minutes of social media is quick to turn into 2 hours of scrolling, and the next thing you know, you’re left with a long list of pending tasks fighting for your time and attention!
13. Take initiative AND accountability
Another habit most successful leaders have in common? They tend to take initiative as well as responsibility! They learn what they need to do, come up with innovative ideas, and do things without being asked!
Equally important is taking accountability.
The Chairman of the Godrej Group, Adi Godrej, led the company through the Indian economy before it was liberalized, by taking both initiative and accountability. He has organized and updated the management set-ups in the company and reformed organizational policies to deal with the new challenges.
14. Express gratitude
While successful leaders continue to reach for new heights in their professional journey, they also take the time to reflect and express gratitude for all that they have. Take your cue from Hillel Fuld, Israel’s mega-successful tech blogger and startup advisor. Every day, Fuld lists ten things he is grateful for and publishes this gratitude list on his Facebook profile, to encourage his followers to make their own thankful list!
15. Respond, don’t react
The difference between reacting and responding is crystal clear to great leaders. In any interaction, you have the choice of either instinctively expressing the first thought to pop into your head, or coming up with a reply after thoughtfully considering the outcome of your response.
In 1997, Starbucks faced a crisis situation when 3 of its employees were killed in a tragic robbery in Washington DC. Instead of reacting to this PR nightmare by distancing himself, CEO Howard Schultz thoughtfully responded by flying straight to D.C. and spending a week with the co-workers and families of these victims.
16. Listen Actively
Most of us listen to respond, instead of trying to fully understand what the other person is communicating. But successful leaders are well-aware of the importance of active listening. Which is why, many of them go to great lengths to make those around them feel heard.
Jim Sinegal, CEO of Costco, told Entrepreneur.com that he moved his desk to the middle of an office hallway so it’s easy for any employee in the building to talk to him!
Taking the time each day to connect with your thoughts and stabilise your mind is absolutely essential, especially when you always have your hands full as a leader. Most successful leaders of the world take a few minutes out of their day to introspect and meditate. A regular meditation habit makes you mentally equipped to deal with unexpected challenges and resolve problems.
Padmasree Warrior, the Chief Technology and Strategy Office of Cicso Systems, blocks 20 minutes every evening to practice meditation. Jack Dorsey, Co-founder & CEO of Twitter has maintained a meditation habit for 20 years!
18. Summarize the day
As important as planning your day first thing in the morning, is tracking your progress on everything you’d set out to achieve, at the end of the day. For successful leaders, it’s not sufficient to just list tasks, they need to check-in and keep tabs on the ones completed, the ones done halfway, and the ones to be pushed to tomorrow.
Before leaving the office each night, Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, takes time to reflect and write down three things that he wants to accomplish the next day.
19. Set aside time for hobbies
Successful leaders lead well-rounded lives, despite dealing with a busier schedule than most others. They take out the time to engage in an activity they truly enjoy, practice an old hobby or cultivate a new one. This helps them avoid reaching a point of saturation and refuels their energy for the following day!
Oprah Winfrey enjoys reading, while Bill Gates likes to play Bridge in his free time!
20. Remember to relax!
Last but by no means the least, most successful leaders accord equal importance to a relaxing wind-down routine, as they do to a productive morning routine. If you want to be as productive as the most successful leaders in the world, remember to give your mind the rest it needs to work.
Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, sets a hard-limit to working. After arriving home from the office at around 8 PM in the evening, Armstrong spends time reading to his daughters. Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Chairman & Managing Director of Paytm, listens to music to relax and mostly falls asleep listening to western classical music.
So, there you have it! These are the 20 habits most successful people have adopted in their lives. Learn from these leaders and their remarkable triumphs, by adopting these habits in your daily routine, one behaviour at a time. And remember, consistency will always be the key!