When he was sixty-five years old, America’s first great entrepeneur, Benjamin Franklin, began writing his autobiography, and he would work sporadically on it for the rest of his life. Although The Autobiography was never finished nor published in his lifetime, Franklin nevertheless provided the nation with an original self-help text that is still read and studied by academics and business leaders to this day. One of the goals this unique Founding Father had for himself was arriving at moral perfection, and The Autobiography details a system Franklin put in place to help him achieve it by establishing beneficial habits.
A habit is a behavior customarily practiced by an individual on a regular basis. Unlike character traits, which are qualities that can be attributed to one’s personal nature, habits are established through repetition and action. However, behavioralists believe that character traits can be molded and shaped by an individual’s behavior and habits, and Benjamin Franklin certainly seemed to be of this mindset. While achieving moral perfection was a lofty and ultimately unattainable goal, Franklin’s pursuit of it prompted him to develop routines and attitudes that led to his successes as an inventor, businessman, and statesman.
We, too, can cultivate habits that will help make us more successful and effective. By establishing productive practices in our daily routines, we will become better leaders both in the workplace and in other areas of our lives. With that goal in mind, it is suggested that you establish the following five habits.
Plan ahead. Do long-term planning for upcoming weeks or months. Take time to set an agenda or schedule for the next day either before leaving work or later in the evening. Consider arriving at work early to set up for the day and to adequately prepare yourself for the duties you will perform. Address challenging and essential tasks first. Doing so will ensure that you accomplish the most important things on your to-do list, and you are likely to make fewer mistakes if you complete the work while you are fresh, energetic, and sharp. Planning ahead will keep you better organized and more focused on top priorities.
Develop positive self-talk and a sense of optimism. Human beings have a natural propensity to engage in negative thinking. Replacing the negative internal dialogue with positive thoughts can tremendously improve your outlook and performance. Don’t play the victim by dwelling on why certain setbacks have befallen you; play the victor by asking yourself how you are going to effectively overcome these obstacles. Your improved attitude will also likely become infectious, inspiring your employees or coworkers to more enthusiastically and energetically take on assignments while eschewing the negativity that can sweep through an organization like a contagion and cripple an enterprise.
Learn something new each and every day. Successful people know that there is always more to discover, so they pursue knowledge, understanding, and experience that will give them an edge. Watch videos and listen to podcasts from giants in your industry. Improve your job performance by reading books and literature that pertain to your field. Even if you just read for pleasure, you are sharpening critical thinking skills that will help you become a more capable leader, so set aside time each day for reading. Additionally, seeking the wisdom, insights, and advice of your teammates or associates can be tremendously rewarding and may pay big dividends. Furthermore, carrying on in-depth conversations with those around you can help you hone the interpersonal communication skills that are so vital to leadership in today’s world.
Set aside time for reflection, meditation, and/or prayer. Devoting time each day for this type of introspection can make us more focused and productive. We can mentally prepare for the challenges ahead and visualize the outcomes we desire. Keeping a diary can cause you to reexamine the day’s events and may provide you new perspectives in hindsight. Jotting down the things for which you are thankful in a journal can assist you in developing an attitude of gratitude that can improve your own well-being and positively impact those around you. Prayer and meditation can renew your spirit and better equip you for the difficulties that will surely come your way. Create a fixed time in your schedule for some or all of these activities.
Prioritize healthy living. Many leaders are overachievers, and as such, they sometimes have the tendency to neglect their health and personal needs in pursuit of their goals. In order to perform your best, you need to maintain a sound body and mind. Endeavor to get enough sleep. Eat well balanced meals and moderate your diet. Exercise regularly. If you can’t find time to exercise regularly because of your packed schedule, find ways to incorporate more strenuous activity into your work routine by parking far away from the building, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking the grounds while talking individually with employees, utilizing standing desks, etc. Be creative if necessary, but find a way to keep physically fit to improve your performance and enhance your quality of life.
In his quest to attain moral perfection, Benjamin Franklin identified thirteen virtues that he wished to cultivate within himself, and he adhered to strict rules of conduct in an effort to ingrain those virtues in his personality. In The Autobiography, he wrote, “My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judged it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone through the thirteen . . . .” This is a wise approach that we can emulate as well. Trying to establish new habits for all five aforementioned tips at the same time may prove overwhelming, but patiently implementing and fostering new habits in each of these ways over time will eventually yield benefits that will improve our lives and make us more effective leaders.