The 6 strategic habits of highly successful leaders

Let’s talk about habits. Over my 42-year career, I have picked up a few good habits, and I continue to try to improve them each day.

Habits are like discipline. But the word discipline gets a bad rap in today’s “get it now” world. I like to think of having discipline as adopting more of a training mentality. In his recent book “Power to Change,” Craig Groeschel writes about how having this mentality will help you stay the course in creating strategic habits that will help you achieve your life plan.

Having a life plan sounds complex, but it can be as simple as using an Excel spreadsheet, an app, or a Word document to track your progress toward your personal and professional goals. Without a plan, you risk just aimlessly wandering through life.

Research shows that adults make about 35,000 decisions a day, most of them small. But all those small decisions are what our lives are built on. Having a plan ensures that your sail is set on moving toward your goals and that those numerous small decisions are leading you closer to the things that you want to accomplish.

The first strategic habit: Work harder on yourself

The first strategic habit dates 33 years to my introduction to business philosopher Jim Rohn. At that time, I was looking for the “formula” to become a better leader. Do x, then y, and follow that with z, but I found no such formula.

Rohn coined the phrase “Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” I grabbed onto this idea because this concept could be applied to every aspect of my life. After working at our day job, or our career, we then play roles ranging from father/mother, brother/sister, son/daughter. You get the point. We can’t compartmentalize our lives. I continue to ask myself how I can improve as a financial professional, a son, a husband, a father and a grandfather. What can I do to become a better version of Bill today than I was yesterday?

The second strategic habit: Plan

Working harder on myself than I do on my job ties to the second strategic habit, to have a plan.

I started writing down my goals when I was 22 – that was 43 years ago. Each year, I spend time monitoring my progress toward my goals monthly or quarterly. Those early goal lists then turn into an Excel spreadsheet that allows me to capture my annual goals, my purpose statement, my health goals, my financial goals and more.

Over time, that spreadsheet has become more of a life plan for me. And it has allowed me to add notes and ideas, plus learnings from good books, sermons, TED Talks and more. I later added my long-term goals and a page to work on my retirement plan and travel plans. Now I have everything in one spot. And I still to this day create my annual Individual Development Plan. Sound quirky? Heck yeah!  But I can’t tell you how many folks I get to speak with each year at conferences – where I’m sharing my “Leadership Bet” talk –  who tell me they don’t have a written plan and written goals.

The third strategic habit: Journal

You need something in today’s crazy, fast-paced world to keep track of things. I have a pretty good memory, but I use my journal all the time to capture new ideas, track progress toward my goals, gather feedback for those I’m coaching or mentoring, and a lot of other things I just don’t want to trust my memory for.

I try to learn people’s names when I first meet them and my journal allows me to write down something interesting I learned about them, which has helped me get pretty good at remembering names over the years.

I didn’t start journaling until I was 45 and my boss and mentor handed me a very nice, leather-bound journal and directed me to start using it that very day. Photos, doodling, crazy ideas, workouts, weight tracking, and more go in there and have for almost 20 years. I like to call my journal my “idea catcher.”

And there’s some science in using something to get thoughts, ideas, frustrations and joyful moments out of your head and into a journal (or note-taking app). In his book “Getting Things Done,” David Allen writes about the space you clear up in your brain by writing things down, allowing you to better focus on the task(s) at hand.

The fourth strategic habit: Find your Nathans, or truth-tellers

King David had the prophet Nathan enlighten him on a pretty big mess up he’d committed. We all need a Nathan in our lives to help give us the unvarnished truth about our behaviors and provide the feedback necessary to course correct.

The higher you travel up the company ladder, the harder it is to find those truth-tellers who won’t just pat you on the back for a job well done but also kick you where you need it when you make a mistake. Mistakes are typically not fatal, and with a Nathan in your court, you can learn from your mistake and get better. (Revisit strategic habit No. 1.)

The fifth strategic habit: Be a servant leader

In his book “The Servant,” James C. Hunter describes what it means to be a servant leader. I highly recommend this book.

What is servant leadership? Let’s break it down. To be a servant is all about identifying and meeting the legitimate needs of the people entrusted into your care. Notice I said “legitimate” – like showing appreciation, respecting the other person, helping people feel valued and encouraging others. In fact, to take this idea a little further, it’s about setting expectations, creating accountability, defining the rules of engagement and providing honest feedback about performance.

Leadership is simply influence.

The idea of servant leadership is captured with the focus of developing relationships with your team and the team delivering results tied to the company goals and objectives.

The sixth strategic habit: Have fun

Some of the most successful leaders I have been around have incorporated these five previously mentioned strategic habits (and more) to help them get things done through other people. And they have, in large part, used this last habit—have fun—to tie them all together.

Life is too short to not do the things you love doing. If you’re not having fun at your current job, it might be time to find a new one. One of my favorite movies (don’t judge me) is “Top Gun,” and I have adopted the line about “going Mach 2 with my hair on fire” as part of my purpose statement. Although this sounds like a bald statement—something tough for a guy with my hairstyle—I love the vision it conjures of moving through life having fun at warp speed.

“Do what you love and love what you do.” That has been my catch phrase and personal mission for years.

Take a few minutes today to determine which habits you need to strengthen and which you may need to let go. Then, get strategic about working harder on yourself than you do on your job. And don’t forget to have fun along the way.


Contact the author: The Leadership Bet

Contact the author: The Leadership Bet

Bill Partin

Bill Partin

Bill Partin is the Founder and Chief Encouragement Officer of The Leadership Bet LLC and former President and CEO of Sharonview FCU. He has 40+ years of experience in the ... Web: Details