How Effective Leaders Do What They Know They Should Be Doing
Transforming Knowledge into Action for Masterful Leadership
Information and knowledge alone do not change behavior.
This is a reality that many individuals, like Joe, experience firsthand.
Joe possesses a wealth of knowledge and owns a rack of books on leadership and management. He has also received direct feedback on how he can be more effective.
Joe knows what he could be doing differently.
However, despite his accumulated knowledge, he continues to lead and manage in the same way, failing to implement any meaningful changes.
It’s easy to see that Joe’s chances of becoming a better leader soon are close to zero.
“To know and not to do, is not to know.”
The key to driving change lies not in information alone, but in the adoption of new habits and behaviors.
In this article, I will share four essential tips for translating knowledge into action.
1. Make the decision and commitment to take action
Joe is sabotaging himself by avoiding a new action. Fact is we all are avoiding or delaying some action, change in behavior, or conversation.
Let’s imagine Joe’s challenge is that his team lacks engagement and his attrition numbers are increasing. Joe knows there is a problem, his boss knows it, and the team knows it. But the Joe’s actions and behaviors are not creating the required change.
Joe might be denying the real problems; making excuses, blaming others or external factors; or not taking the risk of uncomfortable action.
How does Joe create the motivation to commit to new actions and behaviors?
- Feel the discomfort of the current situation and predictable path. What is the real cost of attrition and lack of engagement? How does this impact the organization, Joe’s career, and the team?
- Imagine the benefits of the desired change. Envision how it will feel in the future to have taken bold action and created the desired change. Work on this vision, make a statement about what you want to create.
- Decide on the first action. It might not be the best or the most impactful action, but it is the start. If you want to finish you have to start.
2. Keep it simple and overcome perfectionism
The desire for perfection often becomes a barrier to action.
Many people refrain from taking even the simplest of steps due to fear of imperfection or the belief that they need to construct a comprehensive and flawless plan first.
Perfectionism can sabotage progress so it’s crucial to recognize and overcome this tendency.
Rather than aiming for flawless execution, embrace a mindset that values taking action and learning from the process.
Recognize that it is the accumulation of small, imperfect steps that ultimately leads to substantial improvement.
Seeking the assistance of a coach can help identify impactful actions and mitigate the discomfort associated with taking those initial steps.
“Perfection is the enemy of progress.”
– Winston Churchill
By focusing on progress rather than perfection, leaders can cultivate a proactive and action-oriented mindset.
3. Measure progress with leading indicators
Joe’s boss wants to see a measurable change in retention metrics. Joe’s team wants to feel like their work is meaningful and makes a difference. These are results or lagging metrics.
Focusing only on the outcome can turn into “leading by hoping and wishing.” An action plan is needed to give dignity to the commitment to change.
Joe doesn’t need a full plan to start the change. Many changes are sabotaged by over-thinking. Again, perfectionism kills progress when the creation of a detailed plan delays even the smallest of first steps.
Behavior change is a trial-and-error process. A series of “experiments” to see what works. While the lagging metrics are measures of success, leading indicators are measures of progress. Leading indicators can be a combination of milestones and measures of new behaviors.
“We improve what we measure.”
In Joe’s case for improving retention, he might decide on having new conversations to help his team feel more included and engaged. Simple leading indicators could be on the time spent “managing by walking around”, the number of conversations of appreciation with his team, number of career development one-on-ones, etc.
Change occurs as the result of implementing new behaviors and actions. Coaching supports Joe in working with his reluctance to new behaviors and creating new practices/actions designed to create the desired results.
4. Focus on developing new habits
James Clear aptly stated that much of what we do is guided by habits.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
– James Clear
Habits exert a powerful influence on our behaviors and altering them can be challenging. We all know that habits are hard to change!
Before taking action, we experience emotions that either support or hinder our readiness to act. We tend to experience positive emotions when we repeat old comfortable habits and negative emotions when we try something new and uncomfortable.
To effect behavioral change, we need to practice new behaviors consistently.
With dedication and perseverance, we can break away from old, less effective behaviors and move to a new way of leading.
By working with a coach, leaders can design practices tailored to their specific needs.
Merely possessing knowledge does not guarantee a change in behavior
By adopting new habits and behaviors, leaders can translate their knowledge into tangible actions that drive positive change.
Four essential keys to moving from knowing to doing are to make the commitment to change, create simple actions to get started, embrace learning from imperfection, measure progress using leading indicators, and focus on developing new habits which will sustain the desired change.
If you are eager to enhance your leadership skills and aren’t sure where to start, you may benefit from having a trusted guide at your side. I invite you to book a complimentary call with me to discuss whether leadership coaching is right for you: Book a Call with Coach Ken