Twenty Surprising Habits of Successful Executives
Clients frequently ask me about the daily habits of successful C-level executives. “What skills can I learn to be more productive and happy?”, they ask. So, based on 20 years of coaching top executives and intellectuals, here is my list of the most compelling habits for success, resiliency and happiness in the New Year…
- Practice Gratitude. Resilient people express gratitude on a daily basis. They know that gratitude is the new mindfulness. As such, they cultivate a daily habit of being grateful to those around them upon whom their success is built. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Training your brain to focus on those who have helped us along the way is key to staying optimistic and productive even on challenging days.
- Let it go. Successful people learn how to let go of annoyances and disappointments. Life will disappoint every one of us. That is certain. Successful people learn to forgive and let go of past hurts. They do not stay stuck in a victim mentality.
- Develop a daily morning ritual. Top executives know time is limited and maximizing the use of it is critical in staying mentally balanced. All successful executives and intellectuals have some variation of a daily morning ritual. Most include elements such as mindfulness, exercise and positive affirmations (e.g., “I am brilliant. I have a message that matters.”).
- Give credit away. When things go right, they give the credit for the accomplishment away. For they know that giving away credit is free and builds trust and appreciation.
- Look for silver linings. The most productive people are experts at finding the silver linings in the most difficult situations. Why? Because this allows them to keep an even emotional keel and continue being productive. It also enables them to learn from mistakes.
- Are lifelong learners. Whether it’s podcasts, books, seminars or talking to others, the successful are constantly learning. Some set a goal of reading one book a week. Some listen to podcasts during their commute. Some attend conferences and workshops regularly. Some make great use of their networks. The best do all of the above.
- Stay optimistic. Sir Winston Churchill once said, ‘A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.’ With the exception of attorneys, every occupation benefits from being realistically optimistic. Optimism reduces stress, increases life satisfaction, increases productivity, strengthens gratitude, increases motivation and allows for more cognitive flexibility.
- Embrace change. One inevitable truth in life is that change will happen. It is critical to become comfortable with change so that you can plan for it.
- Are thoughtful. Top leaders are keen on thoughtfulness. It fosters admiration, respect and loyalty. Thoughtful leaders keenly observe, cultivate curiosity, think deeply, consider others and then, take action.
- Take smart risks. Taking risks demonstrates confidence to others and helps you stand out. Success doesn’t just come to you. You must track it down and it’s inherently risky. Taking calculated risks helps you conquer the fear of failure. And yet, you must do your homework to enable you to take smart risks with a higher probability of success.
- Spend more time in the present. The present moment is often the least painful and most pleasant place to be. Recent research shows that the average American spends over 47% of their time in the past or the future. However, the best way to strengthen a relationship is to be present with the other person, that is, be in the present moment.
- Celebrate other people’s successes. A key skill for successful relationships is active constructive responding. Put simply, this means authentically and enthusiastically celebrating the success of others. This one skill is monumental in its ability to strengthen relationships.
- Embrace failure. They subscribe to the saying…Fail forward fast. Understand that failure is one of the most powerful teachers. Successful people do not shy away from failure. Instead, they constantly risk failure. When failure does arise, they ask themselves, “What can I learn from this?” Failure is one of the best ways we learn.
- Practice mindfulness. Instead of tuning out, tune in. Successful people don’t tune out via drugs, sex or other addictions. They tune in via mindfulness or meditation to a) train attention, b) be familiar with themselves and c) stay calm under duress.
- Prepare for a marathon. Life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Successful individuals excel at self-care to enable their long-term efforts, including massage, exercise, sleep, nutrition and relaxation.
- Know their values. Core values act like a rudder on a ship. Without knowledge of values, you are adrift at sea. Values keep you moving in the right direction despite the inevitable vicissitudes of life.
- Expend their mental energy wisely. What drains you? What energizes you? What percentage of your time do you spend doing one as compared to the other? Spend more time doing that which energizes you.
- Lean into their discomfort. Life generates discomfort within our bodies – pain, embarrassment, anxiety, sadness, anger, and so on. Successful people are masterful at taking a step back from their inner experience and reminding themselves that “this too will pass.” They breathe through difficulty and maintain perspective which enables them to stay focused more of the time.
- Understand there is a powerful voice within. Successful folks remind themselves that there is a unique and powerful, yet quiet, voice inside them which is worth cultivating, trusting, and listening to. Know and accept thyself.
- Practice self-compassion. Our internal experience is often divided. Witness the internal critic as compared to your supportive, encouraging voice. Self-compassion is the purposeful encouragement of your supportive inner voice.Self-compassion leads to greater emotional resiliency, less narcissism, less anger and more accurate self perceptions.
Practice putting one of these habits into play each week in the new year. These habits build upon one another and will create self-sustaining motivation for personal improvement over the long haul. When combined, they will lead to a successful, happy and thriving life.