“The only difference between those who have failed and those who have succeeded lies in the difference of their habits. Good habits are the key to all success. Bad habits are the unlocked door to failure.” — Og Mandino, personal effectiveness author

  • Join the Daily Reflect and Plan Club. This is the single most important improvement habit we can form. You need at least 15 minutes and ideally 30 to 45 minutes each workday. Use this time to read or listen to spiritual, inspiring, or educational material, write in your journal, day dream, review the previous day, set your priorities for the next day to sort out the urgent from the truly important, pray and meditate, continue developing your vision, values, and purpose, etc. Experiment with many of these activities until you find the ones most meaningful for you. You may need to juggle the time you do this to suit what’s available, but try to do it during your peak performance hours. The payoff from this disciplined time investment accumulates over the years into an astronomical, incalculable return. 

  • Spend your time with optimistic and growing people. Unless you’re trying to help them, avoid people with stunted personal growth, the Victimitis Virus, or the Pessimism Plague. 

  • Be a reader. This has been one of my most important sources of leadership reflection and learning. There are many excellent books available to inspire, instruct, and guide your personal, team, and organization improvement effort. I’ve found that many effective leaders are readers (as an improvement author I will admit to some bias on the topic). Read with a highlighter or pen in hand. Make lots of notes to review again later. 

  • Be a teacher. This has been another key source of personal leadership reflection and learning for me. Teaching can (and should) start with people on your team. It can extend to giving internal or external presentations in your area of technical expertise, leadership or management topics, or “lessons learned” in your own improvement efforts. You could also volunteer to be a guest teacher at your community college, trade association meetings, or any upcoming management or leadership conferences. 

  • Be a writer. In his book, On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis writes, “Writing is the most profound way of codifying your thoughts, the best way of learning from yourself who you are and what you believe.” You can write in your own journal. You can write articles for your trade or association publications, local newspaper, or internal newsletter (many of these publications welcome such contributions). You could prepare a paper to deliver at a conference. 

  • Be a speaker. Not just on your feet speaking to a group. Reflect on your experiences and talk about your improvement plans with team members, the manager you report to, a close friend, or your spouse. I often find some of my best insights come from trying to articulate (or write) my thoughts. 

  • Be a listener. You can get hundreds of hours a year of education, inspiration, information, and instruction by listening to books-on-tape, conferences, speakers, or presentations on audiotapes or CDs in your car or portable player while working around your home, walking, commuting, and so on. 

  • Be a student. Attend workshops, seminars, and training sessions. Take college or university courses.

Develop the habit of continually stretching outside your comfort zone a bit at a time. It will never go back to its original size. You might try analyzing a problem in a new way, developing a new skill, meeting new people who operate at the performance level you’re aspiring to, watching or listening to an educational television or radio program, or making that tough phone call right off the top. Daily or even just weekly small stretches accumulate into powerful new habits and ever-stronger discipline muscles.