5 habits for digital leaders to adopt in 2017

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It’s common knowledge that by three weeks into the new year, most of us have already given up on those personal and professional resolutions we set in the countdown to 2017.

Lose 10 pounds, exercise every day, expand your network, go for a big promotion – those sorts of goals are great to set, but they take a lot of discipline to achieve. In fact, I make few resolutions at the start of the year, knowing I’ll likely give them up — or forget about them — just a few weeks later.

So this year I’m thinking about habits rather than resolutions, little changes to my daily life that I can put into practice a little at a time. I’m planning to adopt one small change, work to make it part of my routine, and then adopt a new habit when I’ve mastered the last one.

Here’s a look at the 5 habits I hope to make part of my routine in 2017 to make me a stronger leader – and why I think you should give them a try, too.

1 Read about one new topic every day

I’m not talking about Facebook feeds and Tweetstorms here. The idea is to expand your knowledge base by reading online news articles, real-live books (they still exist!), blog posts, poems – something that tells you about a topic you don’t know much about.

To be agile at work and in business you have to know when and which way to move. You can develop that sixth sense through a broad understanding of the world, current events, history, cultures and more – and you can get that by reading.

Read up on your competitors and what they’ve been doing lately. Read a profile about a different place or a person you would never encounter in your day-to-day life. And, of course, keep an eye on all of the new technologies and uses coming to light.

Push yourself one step further by purposely reading or listening to something you know will be at odds with your current thinking. It’s a great way to attempt to counter the confirmation bias we’re all susceptible to – and you never know where it will lead.

Having trouble sourcing out something new each day? Try a site like StumbleUpon that puts Web pages on “random.” Flipboard is another of my personal favorites.

2 Get to know your colleagues 

We talk all of the time about collaboration in the workplace and how digital technology makes it easier to accomplish. What we sometimes overlook is that, for the tools to work, employees have to want to collaborate.

Studies show that friendly relationships at work help to decrease stress, increase engagement, improve motivation and make us more productive. But sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own projects, to-do lists and office politics that we forget to develop the friendships that make work better.

While making a “meaningful connection” sounds daunting, it’s doesn’t have to be hard. Instead of chatting with a coworker about last night’s football game (especially if she’s a Patriots fan ;), ask a more personal question.

Get to know about family and friends. Ask a colleague to tell you about her hometown or how she got to this place in her career. Share an article (that you read for Habit #1) with a Twitter connection. Do something every day – online or in person – to develop a bond with your colleagues and show you care about them personally.

Guarantee that’s time well spent.

3 Open your door to new ideas

You don’t have to be Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs to have an “a ha” moment. All of us should be regularly flexing our creative muscles to inspire great ideas and propel innovation.

With my team, I follow the “door is always open” rule – with a twist. I tell my employees that they can come to me anytime with any concerns – but we’re going to have a really short conversation if all they want to do is complain. (I have four kids for that – and I can’t fire them!)

On the other hand, if you bring me a recommendation on how to make a problem better, I’m all ears. I may not agree, but I can guarantee we’ll have a productive discussion and likely come up with a new idea to make something even better.

Another great way to get the ideas flowing is by  brainstorming, whether on your own or with a partner or team. Brainstorming can be fun, inspiring and lead to new ways of doing things. And it doesn’t require a big production with whiteboards and hipster spectacles.

Get in the habit of setting a timer for 5 minutes and force yourself to make a list of 10 things: 10 ways you could improve team morale; 10 new products the company could pursue; 10 gifts you could buy your wife for her birthday. 10 anything. Don’t worry about the viability of your ideas; just get the brain working and see where it takes you.

4 Fail – really!

We preach about the necessity of accepting risk and failure in the DevOps culture, but how many of us really feel OK about that? We’re human, after all, and hardwired to feel scared in the face of uncertainty. This is one I’ve had to work on myself as I have perfectionist tendencies … but a few gray hairs have taught me to launch when it’s “good-enough” and fix from there, as the chances of being right when it’s perfect are next to zero.

To get more comfortable with a fail-fast, fail-friendly approach to work, we have to be more comfortable with failure in our lives. And one way to do that is by making a habit of trying new things – especially ones that scare us or could end in a big bust.

Take a look at some of the lists you made in Habit #3. What’s an “out-there” idea that excites you but also scares you a little bit? Maybe an athletic competition that would really push you, or a difficult dish you want to cook.

That’s the idea you want to pursue. You might fail – and that’d be a good thing. It would mean you accomplished this new year’s resolution!

5 Get gracious

We get by with a little help from our friends – and that’s becoming more and more true in today’s workplace. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more uncommon for people to express gratitude at work.

That’s a shame since research shows that gratitude improves job satisfaction and employee well-being, while reducing turnover and burnout. A grateful boss is a better boss – and an appreciated worker is a better worker. And an appreciated co-worker will go out of their way to help you next time you’re in a pinch.

So make a habit of passing out a sincere “thanks,” a “job well done” or an “appreciate your support” at least once a day to the people who make a difference. It’s good for the company – and it’s good for you. Grateful people are known to be happier, more confident, more resilient – and they even sleep better.

So pick one or two of these and give it a shot. Just remember, studies show it takes about 60 days for something to truly become a habit so stick with it. And when you’re successful, don’t wait until December 31 to take on the next challenge.

Now if these habits could only help me lose those 10 pounds I got for Christmas … 😉

RELATED LINKS

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Inside the minds of today’s digital leaders

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