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HR Consulting and Executive Coaching Newsletter - Issue #2

Your Bad Habits are Killing You!

Just be yourself.  How many times have you heard people say to someone facing a new or bigger challenge that "the one piece of advice I can give you as you move into this new venture is to just be yourself".  This might be good advice for a short term encounter, but for longer term career-related relationships, I think this is the worst advice that anyone could ever give.  "Be yourself" implies that you should not worry about making changes.  I think that better advice would be to "stick to your core values, but fix those glaring bad habits quickly before they make you fail".
This newsletter is the first in a series of 5 looking at identifying and fixing bad habits.  Some of this is based on the book by Marshall Goldsmith called "What Got You Here Won't Get You There".  I would highly recommend it as you reflect on improving yourself by eliminating your own bad habits.  It is my hope that maybe this series helps you to think of behaviors that you may want to change to make you better in the workplace.
Bad habits?  What bad habits?  Unless you are extremely fortunate, you have them. You probably have had them for a long time.  You might know what they are, but you might not.  If brought to your attention, you might fix them.  However, many successful people have an even bigger problem.  They have convinced themselves that their bad habits are strengths!  They cling to them with pride, and refuse to change them.  Psychologically, they have convinced themselves that these bad habits are key reasons for their success.  The thing that they call their reputation or brand may be just a bad habit in disguise.

Why is this so important?  When you are hired into a new position early in your career, most of the emphasis is on your technical abilities.  However, the higher you go, the more interpersonal skills become the reason for success or failure.  Entry level engineers are expected to be versed in detail work, but a company CTO is chosen usually for abilities to articulate a vision, communicate with the world, and be a leader.  As you move up, those annoying little interpersonal habits at the entry level become glaring interpersonal issues that prevent you from being promoted.  Fixing a bad habit early on can be a huge key to success.

Let's take a more in depth look at some bad habit categories:
  1. No brainers
    Some bad habits, once known, are so obvious and easy that there is no problem changing.  I had a mentee tell me once that I started a lot of my sentences with the word "Honestly".  She told me that it made it sound like I was not being honest the rest of the time.  Once this was pointed out, I made a conscious effort to stop.  Easy enough.

  2. Excuses, excuses
    Other bad habits, once known, seem much harder to break.  Fixing them is a matter of motivation (or avoiding excuses), knowledge, and a plan.  In my practice I hear a lot of excuses (too busy, too hard) which is another name for lack of motivation.  Goldsmith calls this natural law - when circumstances are dire enough, things will change.  No amount of coaching work or feedback is going to change behavior if there is no reason to change.  Once a motivation is discovered (i.e. lack of career progression if things don't change) then all that is required is a method to change and a plan of attack. 

    A good example of this is people who smoke.  Most smokers know that smoking is bad for you in multiple ways, but quitting smoking is extremely difficult.  Research has shown that there are 3 factors for success.  First, the smoker needs to be truly motivated, where reason to quit (health scare, second hand smoke to children) outweighs the pain that quitting causes.  Second, the smoker needs knowledge of successful methods (patch, gum, therapy, etc.).  Third, the smoker needs a plan and support system.  Even with all of these, It's still very hard to stop.  (see article at the
    American Cancer Society.)

  3. I like my bad habits!
    These are the toughest ones of all, because people don't see them as bad habits.  It's extremely common with successful people (which all of my readers are) to believe that all of their behaviors got them to their current level of  success.  Why mess with success?  Changing those behaviors will only lead to failure.   However, it's more likely that success came as a result of some behaviors, but probably also occurred despite some behaviors.This psychological need can be so strong that people actually feel panic when confronted with the need to change.

    For example, an executive I knew was known to be extremely tough on presenters.  Whether it was one on one or in a group, this person would aggressively challenge your points, argue, ridicule, and possibly tell you to stop and come back when your presentation was better.  He prided himself on this ability, stating that "People need to be prepared when they present to me".  He had convinced himself that this was some way of making people stronger.  He was wrapped up in belief that his aggressive demeanor was what got him to success, and took great pride in this reputation. 
    However, reality was different.  He was promoted to his current position mainly because of technical knowledge and good customer contacts.   He succeeded despite his occasional nasty demeanor, not because of it.   People were afraid to approach him with ideas, and really talented people did not want to work for him.  However, he was so wrapped up in the belief that this bad habit was integral to his success that he refused to change.  Ultimately, he was never promoted further because of it.

These three cases address the difficulty of change when you know what your bad habits are.  However, what if you don't know?  This is usually where the process starts.  Typically, everyone else around you (coworkers, employees, friends, family) knows what your bad habits are.  However, most people have learned to work around you, and may not be terribly motivated to hit you over the head with the truth.  There are ways to get those answers, which we will discuss in a later newsletter.

Tips - Start to identify your bad habits.

  1. Write down any bad habits that you know you have.  Think of ideas that would get you to change.  If you use foul language, would $5 per swear word towards a group lunch help you change?

  2. Think about what you or others might say is your reputation or brand.  Is this the brand of successful people?  Or is this hiding a bad habit?  Have others succeeded with different reputation?  (I would be very careful about polling others on this topic.  You may not get the intended results.  This may be better done by a neutral 3rd party.  We will discuss this in later newsletters).

  3. Check out the book "What Got You Here Won't Get You There" by Marshall Goldsmith, available at Amazon.com.

Next month, we will take a deeper look into some common bad habits.


Jim Bowles
James Bowles and Associate