Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Sow a thought and you reap an act; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” Right in the middle of the quotation is the importance of our habits. A habit is “an acquired mode of behavior that has become our common practice.” Our habits mold our character and ultimately determine our destiny in the world. Want to further develop your character and develop into a highly effective person and manager? Intentionally pursuing and building worthwhile habits is the key.

Here are 12 of the habits of highly effective managers. This is not an exhaustive list – but these will build a strong foundation on your road to increased management and personal effectiveness:

Habit #1: “Expanding Self-Awareness” Having a high level of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is essential to being an effective manager – and EQ starts with having accurate self-awareness. Self-awareness can help us gain self-control and be helpful to people around us – not hurtful. Some tools to help expand our self-awareness include: getting feedback from others, such as using 360 degree surveys; having a mentor to speak to; and constantly seeking feedback from others on how we are doing.

Habit #2: “Pursue Continuous Learning and Continuous Improvement” Are you a perfect manager and person? Me neither! What we can do is to commit ourselves to be lifelong learners and seek to continuously improve ourselves as managers and as human beings. This includes being open to new ideas from our team members and others. I have been inspired by this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “I may not be the man I want to be; I may not be the man I ought to be; I may not be the man I can be; but praise God, I’m not the man I once was.”

Habit #3: “Always Do the Right Thing” Too many people have been victimized by the unethical behavior of those in leadership roles. Remember Enron? My co-workers and I at Portland General will never forget – we were owned by Enron at time of their bankruptcy and our retirement savings were decimated. You may have your own story of being victimized by unethical behavior. Mark Twain said, “Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other.” My former Pastor Loren Fischer taught, “It’s always right to do right” – and I agree.

Habit #4: “Be Results AND Relationship Oriented” As leaders we are expected to get results – and we should. At the same time, building positive relationships is the right thing to do – and it leads to great results. One tool to help build relationships is to consistently practice the 3 Rs with people. Recognize people for who they are and what they do; Reward people for individual and team achievements; and show people Respect – everybody wants to be respected (as the classic Aretha Franklin song emphasizes!)

Habit #5: “Admit and Accept Mistakes” I sometimes make mistakes; how about you? The reality is that we are all human, and sometimes we mess up. When we try to hide or rationalize our mistakes, we lose respect. When we own up to our mistakes, we gain respect. We also model a behavior that supports a psychologically safe environment where our team members can own their mistakes – then we can all learn from them and improve in the future. After all, perhaps the best learning experience is to make a mistake and then learn and grow from it.

Habit #6: “Communicate Well” One important aspect of communicating well is to always communicate the reason why. We know that nearly every organization is going through changes for a variety of causes (e.g., technological disruptions, increased competition, financial challenges, etc.) And only four in 10 US employees strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their job is important. This means that most employees are at least a little unsure about how their work fits into the "big picture." So, when big changes are required, many employees lack motivation. It's the manager who is ultimately responsible for making that connection and explaining the why and the big picture fit.

We also need to communicate frequently –to share information, ask questions, and listen and show people we care about them. Sadly, Gallup finds that only 20% of US employees strongly agree that they have had a conversation with their manager in the last six months about the steps they can take to reach their goals.

Habit #7: “Achieve Big Goals One Small Step at a Time” I remember a grade school friend telling me the following riddle: “Question: how do you eat an elephant? Answer: one bite at a time.” Get the point? We need to set long-term visions and big goals for ourselves and our teams. And we need to break down the journey towards the vision and goals into manageable steps that inspire others to move forward.

Habit #8: “See the Glass as Half-Full” Are you normally a pessimist or an optimist? Studies have shown that the most effective leaders are strong optimists. Being optimistic does not mean that we ignore the half of the glass that is empty. It does mean we are thankful for the half that is full, and we work together to fill the rest of the glass as best we can.

Habit #9: “Look for the win-win”. Effective managers don’t get locked into specific positions, but rather look for ways to meet interests of themselves and others so everybody gets something (a “win-win” versus a “win-lose”).

Habit #10: “Spend Much Time in Quadrant 2” Stephen Covey popularized the importance of intentionally spending significant time doing “Important, Not Urgent” items. These include things like building relationships, reading and other learning activities, planning and thinking, exercise, etc. To spend more time in Quadrant 2, we need to spend less time in Quadrants 3 & 4 (i.e. “Urgent, Not Important” and “Not Urgent, Not Important”) activities like watching TV, social media, playing video games, and spending time doing things that add no value to our lives or the lives of others.

Habit #11: “Enjoy the Journey” Management (and life!) is a journey – filled with both positive and negative experiences. The journey will be much more pleasant and we will go farther if we learn to laugh and be thankful. A Yiddish proverb says, “What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” Studies have shown that laughter makes us physically and emotionally healthier – and more fun to be around, too. Find a funny friend; enjoy a funny TV show or movie – and just laugh! Being thankful is also important. The reality is that we all have much to be thankful for, and our lives will be more joyful and productive if we learn to develop an “attitude of gratitude.”

Habit #12: “Remember — Your Health Is Your Wealth.” Gandhi said, “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” Living a healthy lifestyle will increase your energy, stamina, and emotional well-being – and help us be more effective in all that we do. A holistic healthy lifestyle includes developing and using our mental capabilities (read a good book lately or taken a class just for the learning?). We are also spiritual beings, and finding faith and serving others can nourish our spiritual health.

Let me leave you with a challenge to not settle for mediocrity, but to get in the game and go for management excellence. Listen to this classic President Teddy Roosevelt quote: “It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doers of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who spends himself in a worthy cause.”

Wes Friesen is a proven leader and developer of high performing teams and has extensive experience in both the corporate and non-profit worlds. He is also an award winning university instructor and speaker, and is the President of Solomon Training and Development, which provides leadership, management and team building training. He serves as the Industry Co-Chair of the Greater Portland PCC. His book, Your Team Can Soar! has 42 valuable lessons that will inspire you, and give you practical pointers to help you — and your team — soar to new heights of performance. Your Team Can Soar! can be ordered from Xulonpress.com/bookstore or wesfriesen.com (under Book) or an online retailer. Wes can be contacted at wesmfriesen@gmail.com or at 971-806-0812.

This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.