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Improvement Habits of Leaders

If you have ever run a marathon you know that, in order to make it to the finish line, you need to develop and sustain small habits over many months, sometimes years, to get there. Each week in marathon training, you add a small percentage of mileage to your runs; monitor how your body feels before, during and after the run; and pay attention to foods that help or hinder your performance. In the end, as you employ these habits, you’ve made countless observations about your mind and body that build a sense of awareness which leads you to know yourself better and, to practice time and again the key variables needed to achieve marathon success.


Leadership can often feel like training for a marathon. Growth as a leader takes willful practice of daily habits and self-reflection. Some days, everything feels in tune and others not as much. However, research and the wisdom of practice show that exceptional leaders demonstrate habits that lead them to gradually improve, especially in how they support others through change. Below are a few habits leaders may draw upon in leading and collaborating with others.

Be Curious

First, seek understanding, then act. Commonly, leaders employ what Bryk et al. (2015) calls “solutionitis,” where there is a rush to solve problems quickly by implementing solutions without fully understanding the problem to be solved. In order to avoid this scenario, be and stay curious. Seek to co-design with others; to question; and generate new ideas that lead to deeper inquiry. Look to consistently identify your “why” in all you do.

Hold the Environment

Support people through the implementation of change. Heifetz et al. (2009) defines the need for adaptive leadership when our deeply held beliefs and values are challenged by change. These types of problems usually have no easy answers and lend themselves to the need for systemic shifts. When we are leading others through change we need to learn to help people “hold the environment” through the turbulence of change. Model and support others by pacing the new change by proactively drawing issues out, working through struggles together, and reflecting daily. Identify ways to help monitor new roles, new relationships, and address the distress that people are experiencing. How can you support people through the micro-moments of the change process that make it hard to sustain?

Seek Conscientious Collaboration

Seek to learn from and with others. Identify what Surowiecki (2005) refers to as the “necessary cognitive diversity for a group to excel”. Who are the key people and perspectives that can help best identify the problem of practice? Seek to lean in and learn from them to gain a deeper understanding from their vantage point. What are the critical voices you need to hear and engage with to minimize bias and increase cognitive dissonance towards a possible solution? Leverage the collective intelligence of your team. Draw people in to unite as you work through adaptive challenges together.

Leaders are constantly learning how to be better leaders. As with training for a marathon, it takes small micro-habits to test out, reflect, and monitor to see what works and how to fail forward. Developing as a leader requires you to tune in to what you say and do and how it impacts those you serve. Take small steps each day to cultivate a culture that demonstrates curiosity, adaptive leadership, and collaboration. In the end, be courageous. We are all in this together and your team is counting on you.


Rebecca Shea is a Senior Staff Developer for the Program Evaluation and School

Improvement Services Division at Measurement Incorporated.

Please learn more about our program evaluation and professional development services on this website.



References:

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. (2015). Learning to

improve: How america’s schools can get better at getting better. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Publishing.

Heifetz, R. A., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Surowiecki, J. (2005). The wisdom of crowds. New York, NY: Anchor Books

Rebecca Shea is a Senior Staff Developer for the Program Evaluation and School Improvement Services Division at Measurement Incorporated.

Please learn more about our program evaluation and professional development services on this website.