Would you rather be an average or an excellent leader?
Seems like an obvious choice, right? It might not necessarily be.
Well, if those are the options, then, quite frankly, I’d rather be an excellent one.

Being average is, average. And of course it is completely okay to be average, IF that is what you want to be. Not everyone wants to be an excellent leader, and that is totally okay. But if you are anything like me, then if I am going to lead, i’d rather be moving in the direction of being an excellent one.

In my mind there really are two destinations that leaders are tending towards at any given moment. Either you’re moving closer to average, or you’re moving closer to excellent.



Now, alongside this desire to head in the direction of excellence, I’m reminded of the critical truth that “leadership isn’t about what you know, it’s about what you do” (reference Mygrow E-book with link). The rubber hits the road through the way we actually behave in the world around us. That is what ultimately influences others and what leads to someone ultimately being called a “leader”.

Surely it can’t just be a once-off thing. One afternoon, at 16:45 you magically conjure up this massively influential moment that suddenly causes people to think of you as an excellent leader for the rest of time. No. It happens over and over again as your behaviour and character gets lived out through the way you are in the context of the relationships through which you lead.

So leadership is really about what do, repeatedly.

It reminds me of that often used quote: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit” (Will Durant, or some people say Aristotle).

If some of my thinking about leadership is correct then perhaps this could be to be: “Excellent leadership is not a once-off act, it’s a habit.”

“Excellent leaderships is not a once-off act, it’s a habit.” (Put this as a nice big pronounced piece of text somewhere funky).

So what do we need to do to keep heading in the direction of excellent leadership?

How many leadership models do we really need?

There has been a lot of talk around leadership in the last 150 years or so. There are hundreds of theories, broken into many aspects — What a leader is, How a leader grows, What traits a leader has etc., etc., etc. Each month a new study or model is published. Who knows, there are probably thousands of models by now. From the “Great Man” theory (Thomas Carlyle, 1847) — where the great achievements of history are premised on the great men that are born with certain heroic traits –, to the more contemporary leadership theories and models like transformational leadership and servant leadership. What’s more, is that each model emerges from a slightly different paradigm of leadership so that through the ages it becomes possible to plot a historical timeline of leadership models that progresses through different paradigms.

Insert visual of leadership models and paradigms from Burce Winston and the E-book


In fact, put almost any adjective in front of the term “leadership” and you’ll probably find some book or article about it.

The ever-evolving field of leadership studies has grown and stretched and spilled over into every area of modern life. And rightly so. With each successfully defended PhD dissertation, and every burgeoning leadership development consultancy, the once trending “hot topic” of leadership development has become an established fully-fledged industry in its own right. Ramping up dramatically in the last few decades, leadership development is now a 50 Billion dollar industry. (http://www.clomedia.com/2018/03/21/follow-the-leadership-spending/) .

There is clearly an appetite for leadership help. Companies spend thousands of dollars every year developing their leaders.

It seems that there is almost a desperate and frantic effort to find the key to excellent leadership.

So, capitalism, true to form, has supplied for the demand. By now there are numerous secret keys to leadership development — each one better than the last.

The ability to form habits is an often-overlooked skill in leaders. But if we can form the right habits we can reverse-engineer the process of leadership growth. But some habits are primary, and some are secondary. We need habits to help us develop the ability to form habits. It’s similar to a chicken or egg scenario.

Clearly, habits pave the way for excellent leadership. But if it was that simple, we would long ago have implemented what the books and articles have suggested and there would be excellent leaders everywhere.

Perhaps our problem lies not so much in which habits to form, but in how to form habits.

So how do you learn how to form habits.

Habits — abstract or specific?

The word “habits” often gets thrown around in the leadership literature.

Choose how many habits you have space for in your leadership philosophy and I guarantee that you’ll be able to find a book to help you. Is 7 habits enough for you? How about 12? Or maybe 25? I may sound cynical. And I guess it’s because I am a little.

I’m sure these habit-lists can be very helpful, but so often this self-help literature overlooks the necessary neurological reality of habit formation itself, and importantly, which habits we need to be able to form the 7 habits in the first place!

The literature jumps to selling a specific number of habits as the secret set of keys. We need to interrogate the idea of habit-breaking and habit-forming to see how and why habits are so powerful for leadership.

Habits are Hard:

Why can’t we form positive habits? Why do you struggle to form the habits that make up the magic set of “habit-keys” in that book you bought — the keys that will unlock your leadership potential?

It seems to me that the concept of habit, in leadership material, misses a vital step. This gap in the understanding renders a list of habits unattainable as a lifestyle for the would-be leader. I will circle back around to this after the next paragraph.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ): Responsible for 85% of habit formation.

Another vital sphere in Leadership development material is the role of EQ in effective leadership. Since Daniel Goleman told us back in 1999 that 85% of leadership skills lie in the domain of emotional competencies, it has become something of an undisputed truth. But there is very little talk about the link between EQ and habits.

EQ is vital for positive habit formation:

Without certain sub-competencies of EQ, (resilience, grit, stress tolerance, impulse control, emotional regulation, optimism etc.), the forming of healthy habits, and the conquering of bad habits is a pipedream. It seems the missing link in the material around habits and leadership is this…

EQ is needed to develop habits.

Generally, the tacit message in habit self-help books is this: “If you can master these habits, you will improve your leadership ability.” But if EQ is 85% of leadership ability, then leaders have EQ already, and that’s why they have strong defining habits that characterize their leadership.

So what comes first? The habit or the leadership?

Habits aren’t magic:

Trying to conjure up the habits without the EQ in place may lead to disappointment. The habits aren’t the magic. The EQ is. If you’ll forgive the analogy, it’s a little bit like saying that if you can just get juicy apples onto your apple tree you’ll have a healthy tree. But fruit is the result of a healthy tree. The nutrients in the soil, air and water, manifests into fruit. If you want healthy apples, focus on feeding the tree. Put first things first. Habits are the result of the strong aspects of EQ. If you want strong leadership, develop your EQ, habits will be part of the fruit.

But developing EQ is impossible without habits.

“Wait… what? … You just said ….”

I know. Bear with me, all will become clear. The apple tree analogy falls down a little. You see it does work both ways. You can generate leadership ability through habit formation. And here’s why. Developing EQ is impossible without habits. But perhaps not the habits you have been sold in your leadership book. EQ and habits are a chicken and egg situation.

There is only one way to develop EQ: habits

EQ is hard to develop. Not because developing it is complicated. No, developing your EQ is quite simple… But just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean you will do it. It literally requires a rewiring of our psychology and neurology (physically, in your brain). This only happens over time, by religiously practicing certain EQ techniques that can rewire your neural pathways, changing your default responses to the world. The result of this neural development is a set of skills that are rooted in the emotional centres of your brain — skills like resilience, grit, optimism, stress tolerance, impulse control, among others. Recognise these? Coincidentally many of these EQ skills are the exact skills that will result in the ability to form and break habits — which is no doubt why leaders exhibit such fruitful habits in their lives and leadership.

EQ development is like physical fitness.

A good way to think of habit formation around EQ is with another analogy. The gym. In order to get fitter with a gym you need to create a few habits. The first habit you need is the habit of actually going to the gym. This is primary, unless you are habitually committed to developing EQ you will not be able to grow your EQ, or grow your specific leadership habit-list and leadership in general.

But then once you are in the gym, the actual exercises that you need to do, each curl, each rep, each step on the treadmill needs to be a habit too. Unless you can get into the habit of repeating the EQ techniques that will rewire the neural pathways in your brain, your default ways of responding to the world will not change.

EQ Habit formation is the secret to leadership development.

Self-management or Self-leadership must take its root in the habits you form around developing your emotional competencies, well … 85% of the time. Once you have focused on the habits of personal EQ growth, the apples on your apple tree will start to form of their own accord. That list of secret habits will be easier to form in your life.

For more help on how to commit to a process of Emotional Intelligence development, see what we offer at Mygrow.