I recently read Atomic Habits by James Clear and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  No matter your field, if you lead people or are interested in improving your performance, this book deserves a place on your shelf. Clear’s analysis of how new habits are formed really struck a chord with me.
“There are three layers of behavior change: a change in your outcomes, a change in your processes, or a change in your identity… Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.”
Sound familiar?  Outcome-based habits are the stuff of New Year’s resolutions, crash diets and “honey-please-don’t-leave” promises.  Process-based habits are things I tell myself before I go to bed at night: “Tomorrow I’m going to cut out the carbs… do more cardio… and finally send those Christmas cards (from 2009).” These promises rarely lead to sustained change or improved results. Focus on outcomes and process won’t do the trick! What’s needed is a change in the way we see ourselves.
“Behind every system of actions is a system of beliefs…  Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last… It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this…. Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.  Identity change is the North Star of habit change.  The true question is: “Are you becoming the type of person you want to become?” The first step is not what or how, but who.”
It’s a paradox:  in order to implement new behaviors (or drop old ones) we must start by seeing ourselves differently; but the best way to change how we see ourselves is to take on new behaviors!  I like the way Clear says it: “Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.” So how does this apply to leadership?  At Humanus Solutions, we work with leaders to solve their most challenging problems by engaging their most powerful resource: people.  The best leaders build habits that engage people. If you want to expand your leadership habits, work from the inside out.  Want to promote two-way communication with your team? Begin by telling yourself, “I’m the kind of leader who values input from others”… and then prove it to yourself by asking someone for feedback on something every day. Want to promote mentoring and employee development in your organization?  Start with your self-image: “I’m committed to repaying the folks who taught me, by teaching the next generation in my profession.” Then reinforce this belief by finding small ways to advise and coach people each day. Behavior change is tough…and changing our own behavior can be the toughest of all. Take a page from James Clear’s book and start behavior change from the inside out.  Commit to being differently, and then back it up by acting differently. Rinse-and-repeat often enough and the new actions will become automatic. Interested in learning more?  Ready to build your leadership habits?  We’re ready to help.  This article first appeared on www.humanus-solutions.com About the author: Andy Erickson is a founder and principal consultant at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at aerickson@humanus-solutions.com