by Graham Dodds
You bump into an old colleague in the queue at Starbucks, or have a chance encounter with a business acquaintance in the street. The conversation might go something like this…
“Hey, great to see you! How are you doing?”
“Great thanks, how are you? How are things?”
“Busy, doing well, but really busy”
“I’m busy” has become the default response when we attempt to summarise how our lives are going. There are many reasons why we do this which are probably broad and interesting enough to fill another article, but perhaps the simplest explanation is that it is exactly how we all feel. We are all so busy!
You see, with the majority of knowledge based work, there is no clear end. There is always more to do, and we are usually juggling multiple initiatives at once.
With our calendars so full and our days packed with so many competing priorities, we can’t possibly do everything, right? Something has to give, but what? Well, what we often find is that what tends to get neglected are those things that don’t come most naturally to us. These are commonly things that we know we should do, but because they are not our default behaviours, or we don’t really like them, they get put off for another day, or week, or month, or forever…
For example, at our company, Quiet Leaders Academy, many of our clients are professionals who typically reside closer to the introverted end of the personality spectrum. We often hear from them, or their teams, that they could do more to connect with their colleagues on a regular basis, or they tell us that they should probably manage their network better, or do more to get their voice heard in meetings.
These are things that don’t always come naturally. They want to do them, and know they should do them, but when time is tight other things that are more familiar and comfortable are placed at the front of the queue instead.
In this example, neglecting these important activities can leave the leader’s colleagues and connections feeling neglected, perhaps leaving a sense that he/she is disconnected, or worse yet, aloof. Bosses may expect more visibility of progress and issues, and acquaintances expect better than only being contacted when something is needed from them. There are, of course, many more examples of why connecting with people is key to a successful and happy career and indeed life. Indeed, we devoted an entire workbook to this topic in our members sections at Quiet Leaders Academy.
On a day to day basis, these behavioural patterns may seem to be trivial, however, the cumulative effect of not taking simple, regular steps to stay connected can seriously hinder work performance and career growth. It can also eat away slowly at the self esteem of a leader who knows they are not properly fulfilling an essential part of their role. They know it, but will get to it tomorrow, or the next day, or maybe next week…
The great news is that there is a simple solution that can be implemented immediately to start making positive changes relatively seamlessly!
The answer is in designing tiny changes and weaving them into our existing lives.
Let’s take our client Sally as an example. Sally came to us feeling like a fraud. She felt she was failing as a leader as she wasn’t charismatic enough, didn’t enjoy or make time for what she saw as ‘small talk’ with her team members, colleagues and bosses, and pretty much ignored her network. It had got to the point that she felt so bad about it that she was even becoming scared of fixing the issue. She felt that it would be too noticeable if she suddenly started ramping up her ‘chattiness’; that somehow it would look fake or inauthentic. Despite being aware of the situation and its impact and feeling really bad about it, in Sally’s words she was too busy to possibly make time for all of this time wasting chit-chat. She had too much work to do.
We worked with Sally using the Tiny Habits Method to look for small things that she could do in a few minutes, or even seconds every day to introduce some new behaviours that would address the issues she faced. You see, often what we think is a time problem is actually a behaviour problem. That’s not to say that Sally or anyone else is flawed; this way of behaving is a design flaw in all humans. With Tiny Habits, we can hack that design to our advantage.
The first step was to help Sally clarify her aspirations under the umbrella subject of connecting with people. She landed on 3 areas that she wanted to improve upon:
Whilst she was clear on these aspirations, they seemed too big and insurmountable. So we broke them down together to work out what she could do on a daily basis to connect with her team members, what small steps she could take to grow her professional network, and what simple things she could do to maintain stronger connections with existing business friends and acquaintances.
After throwing some ideas around and reducing them to very small behaviours, Sally landed on five things that she was confident that she could do every day.
Next we spent a little time to design these new behaviours seamlessly into Sally’s existing routines. For each of the new behaviours, we looked for an existing habit that was already programmed into Sally’s day so that we could use it as a trigger to do the new behaviour.
With these prompts added in, Sally now had easy to follow habit recipes, as follows:
The last important ingredient in the Tiny Habits recipe is to celebrate.This helps to wire in the habit by hacking our brains happiness chemicals, leading us to want to repeat the behaviour. For each habit Sally decided on an appropriate celebration to include, such as giving herself a thumbs-up, smiling to herself and physically patting herself on the back.
Sally was amazed by how simple this looked. It would take only a few minutes every day to do these behaviours and the compounding effect of doing these behaviours daily seemed highly appealing. She felt that she had designed habits that she could still do even on her busiest, most challenging days.
As an introvert, the use of electronic communication methods, such as email or LinkedIn also helped Sally in the early stages as she built her new relationship-building muscles. Additionally, the incremental approach took away Sally’s fears of the change seeming too forced or unnatural.
In order to avoid being overwhelmed, Sally gradually implemented the new habits, starting with the first three, then adding the fourth after two weeks and the fifth another fortnight later. This worked well. Having three was better than one at first as this gave Sally a chance to monitor and compare what was working and what wasn’t between the different habit recipes.
After some experimentation, Sally swapped around some of the prompts and added new celebrations and six months later she reports that she does the behaviours on at least 95% of her work days. The rapid increase in LinkedIn followers has led to many interesting conversations, collaboration opportunities, and the introduction of a new service supplier to her company (which was very well received by her boss!) She was also delighted to see that the new habits have multiplied into other good behaviours, such as completely revamping her LinkedIn profile and posting regularly on her own and others’ threads. She has even had two potential job offers, but has decided to stay put as she is feeling re-energised in her existing role.
When we checked in with her team members a few months later they described a big change in their connectedness with Sally. They felt that she was much warmer, more approachable and seemed more part of the team. Several commented that they now felt that they could see the real Sally and as a result they were more motivated to drive results together and to give her feedback on what was and wasn’t working well.
Sally had always aspired to be one of those leaders that she had read about; someone who was loved and respected by their teammates as they always made time for them, always had a smile and said hello in the corridor, or knew the names of her direct reports kids. She just didn’t know how to do all of this in the midst of a demanding job and a busy life.
Now with just a bit of design work and some habits that take a few minutes per day she is well on her way to becoming the leader she aspires to be, and both she and her colleagues are loving it!
Founder of Quiet Leaders Academy
Certified Tiny Habits Coach,