Start the New Year Off Right: Break Old Habits

One of the reasons that change is so difficult is that you first must break old habits.

Breaking those habits, as pre-eminent leadership educators Marshall Goldsmith and Rosabeth Moss Kanter have taught us, means letting go of old ways of thinking. Recessions are a good time to re-think how you do business and what behaviors need to change in order to succeed. It is easy to say you want to change, but actually do it is a different matter. Here are some suggestions.

Do things differently. When the late Alex Trotman became CEO of Ford Motor Company in the early Nineties he banned the big briefing books that senior executives brought to meetings. The overstuffed briefing books were symbolic of an executive who had his facts at the ready, even though many of the facts were less than useful. Trotman wanted his executives to know the issues and stand on their own two feet when asked a question. Breaking a habit sends a message that business as usual is over.

Get out of the office. Off-site meetings are a good way to get people to interact with each other free of the typical office interruptions. Give the group convening a meaty issue to discuss, be it a process redesign, a new product offering, or a competitive threat. Let them come up with ideas. [Note: Ask everyone to turn off his or her phones and PDAs. No talking, no emailing.]

Lead the way. Leaders who push others to change must walk the talk by changing their own personal behaviors. Show the way by letting your actions speak for you. Forgo eating lunches at your desk in order to eat in the employee cafeteria. Get out from behind the desk to meet with employees. Spend more time listening than speaking. And follow up with messages that demonstrate you have learned from what you have heard.

And there is one more thing to consider. Take a page from the spymasters: vary your routine. If you hold staff meetings early, hold them later in the day. If you like to do business via email, make more phone calls. And finally make some time for yourself. It is easy for managers to take on too many tasks. When you can, eliminate the time-wasting activities, such as reporting for the sake of reporting. Discipline begins by saying no to things that add no value to your organization.

Change is never easy. Again, as Professor Kanter teaches: We change because it hurts too much not to change. Well, the pain is pretty intense right now, so change is coming. Those who stand in the way will be steamrolled. Those who embrace it will help their organizations succeed.

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world's top 25 leadership experts. John's newest book is 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead. (Amacom 2010). Readers are welcome to visit John's website, www.johnbaldoni.com