old new habits

Agile, Flexible, and Successful: 16 Essential Habits of Mind for Leading Your Business Through A Crisis

Back when schools were open, my 6th grader was learning about the habits of mind that support success.

These are the mental patterns that help us learn, grow, overcome challenges, communicate effectively, take ownership, collaborate, and make a positive contribution to the community and the world.

Sounds like skills that might be useful for executives, leaders, and professionals of all stripes, no?

At the best of times, leading a business requires mental fortitude, emotional resilience, big-picture thinking, and creative problem-solving

And these are not the best of times.

How your business survives a crisis depends in large part on how agile and flexible it can be. 

And a business is only as flexible as the people inside it.

So make a practice of cultivating these 16 habits of mind.**  You’ll be richer for it, and you’ll certainly reap the benefits in your personal and professional life.

  1. Persistence helps you remain focused on your goals and overcome challenges.
  2. Self-regulation allows you to respond calmly and rationally to new information, stresses, or challenges.  It’s an important counter to impulsivity — and a common trait in the most successful leaders. 
  3. Empathy allows you to connect more deeply with others, understand where they’re coming from, and respect their point of view. Empathetic communication produces more buy-in and better results from employees at every level of an organization.
  4. Flexibility allows you to change your opinions and behavior when new information presents itself, identify alternatives, take suggestions, and adapt to unforeseen challenges.
  5. Self-awareness involves understanding your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how they can be affected by your environment, companions, experiences, history, or physical state of being. This understanding allows you to avoid impulsivity, modify unhelpful beliefs or mindsets, and seek out situations that maximize your potential.
  6. Mental integrity involves being honest with yourself and others, and understanding things as they are, rather than as you wish them to be. This is a necessary starting point for good decision-making and smart strategic thinking.
  7. Critical thinking requires you to identify and validate your own assumptions, interrogate the source and accuracy of information, and consider all angles of a question. As with mental integrity, critical thinking is vital to make good decisions and develop effective strategies.
  8. Knowledge transfer is the process of applying your existing knowledge to new contexts and situations. Being able to deploy skills and knowledge to different contexts is vital for your career progression — and it also helps organizations identify new opportunities and potential threats.
  9. Clarity in thinking and communication enables better decisions, better understanding, and better outcomes.
  10. Observation, using all your senses, provides you with the data you need to make smart decisions, react to changing circumstances, and take advantage of emerging opportunities.
  11. Creativity helps you identify opportunities, solve difficult problems, and distinguish your brand from competitors.
  12. Wonder is the appreciation of nature’s power and beauty, the size and complexity of the universe, and the variety and persistence of life. Allowing yourself to feel awed and humbled puts you in touch with your core values, fosters gratitude, and allows you to appreciate the present moment.
  13. Bravery involves a willingness to try something new, take measured risks, and face your own fears of making mistakes or seeming foolish. Bravery allows you to seize the unproven opportunities that so often lead to success.
  14. Humor helps you connect with (and often influence) others, relieve stress and anxiety, and release tension in difficult circumstances.  Your sense of humor allows you to appreciate absurdity and can aid with self-regulation. 
  15. Interdependent thinking fosters some of the mindsets and skills that are most vital to your personal success. Your safety, success, opportunities, and mental well-being depend to an astonishing degree on the relationships you build and your ability to work with others, enlist their participation, collaborate, co-create, contribute to a team, and maintain strong connections.
  16. Continuous learning is a key element of both business and personal success — particularly in a world that changes as rapidly as ours.  Being open to new experiences, willing to admit what you don’t know, and eager to learn from every situation and every person positions you for a wealth of future opportunity.

Consider what might happen if we applied these habits as core principles for our organizations and teams.

If all leaders, managers, and employees engaged regularly in these habits, I suspect there would be far more growth and satisfaction and far fewer destructive team dynamics.

And certainly, we would all be better equipped to handle — and even benefit from — upheaval, disruptions, and unexpected opportunities.

As a leader, how might you apply these concepts? What could you and your team learn from the habits of mind shown below?

** Adapted from Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, Habits of Mind: A Developmental Series.

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