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We’ve all heard buckle up, when the ride gets bumpy. Most of us have even said buckle up when things at work get tricky, but what happens when that mode becomes a habit? What happens when a leader is always bracing for impact? That leader develops dangerous habits. Whether it’s constant behavior miles away from what is authentic or simple actions that one forgets in the mayhem of a sticky situation, some habits need to be undone and unbuckled when the threat of impact has passed. More importantly, these habits then need to be replaced with better ones. This Monday Moment shares both sets of habits and a few recommendations.

Ignoring Biases

In the field of emotional intelligence, it can nearly not be stressed enough that we all operate under our own biases. We can become aware of them quite by accident in a resolved misunderstanding. Leaders can raise their awareness acutely through the use of a profile or assessment. But with awareness must come action and continual conscious effort to remain aware, taking action to overcome what comes naturally. A leader, all buckled in, and comfortable with their own way of doing things, with little or no awareness of how they come across to those who are different, is not leading effectively long term. A leader who is buckled up figuratively, and stresses, every time they have to coach someone who’s different is ignoring their biases. The bias to do only what we feel is best is or easiest, or comes naturally, keeps us constrained and only able to really lead effectively those who are the same in personality. Unbuckle the bias safety and begin to practice understanding and the act of then meeting the needs and communication styles of those you lead.

Using Auto-Pilot

Not unlike the habit of unbuckling our biases, some believe leadership can truly be done on auto-pilot. It can’t and a leader who tries this approach will nearly always revert back to bad habits. Or they’ll fake it so long without actually learning new skills in connecting, communicating, motivating, and engaging others, that one day in a moment of high stress, they’ll lose it or shut down and their relationships will come crashing down around them. Some actions can be put on maintenance mode and done seemingly automatically, but working with people is not one of them. A leader must turn off the auto pilot feature, unbuckle themselves from their comfy driver’s seat, and go out and connect with the people. It means being as fully engaged as you want those employees you lead to be. It means not dialing it in and taking care of yourself in such a way that you have the energy to remain present and always thinking about the best solution. It means not checking out or relying too much on technology. After all, if your plane were going down, you’d want the pilot to use the latest auto pilot feature, but you’d also want him or her fully aware of all other creative solutions and to be fully engaged in the process of landing the bird safely. The best leaders use auto-pilot selectively, but never let it become their leader.

Failing to Manage

At holiday time or after a great big meal, you might undo the belt a bit (or wear elastic). Getting promoted and leading is not unlike taking in enormous amounts of good things. The work flow changes. The hours in the day to get caught up lessen. The numbers of things you try to manage change daily, or hourly in some cases. Yet, if you fail to effectively manage your time, or your intake, you will end up having to work harder to manage your stress. If you fail to manage your discipline and focus, there will be times when it’s obvious you’re unable to manage your stress. Those reactions you let fly when stressed will then create more and more for you to manage. Leaders new to people development can sometimes lose sight of the need to continue to also manage the numbers, their time, key metrics, and the numbers produced by others. They become complacent in those areas, finding positions for those who fail to perform instead of managing them out. They make excuses for issues being able to continue because they’re focused on the relationships with people and don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. One must do both action when leading. One must manage administrative things and/or manage to delegate them effectively, as well a manage the issues, those who prove not a fit, and all of the numerical logistics, in addition to leading the needs of the team and organization in which they have the privilege of leading.

The act of unbuckling is not a concept frequently paired with changing habits, but think about it. Don’t we get married to a certain comfortable way of doing things and continue to loosen our belt to remain comfortable, and convinced that our eating hasn’t gotten completely out of control? Maybe it’s time to unbuckle, completely, from some of habits to which you’ve grown attached, before they do some real damage, even if at a minimum giving you the impression that things are much more under control than what’s reality.

Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist who coaches, consults with, and speaks to leaders of all levels, building their skills, emotional intelligence and authenticity. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.

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