Habits of LeadersToday’s entry is from guest blogger Dr. Steven Goodwin.

I love reading. It has been a lifetime passion of mine to read, read, and then read some more. I feel a great kinship to Erasmus who once said, “When I get a little money, I buy books. When I get a little more, I buy food and clothing.” My reading habit is to the point now that when I walk into a bookstore with my wife, she demands I hand over my wallet. “We don’t need anymore books,” she will tell me pointedly.

Amongst my favorite books of recent years is Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. In fact, I would daresay that, aside from the Bible, this is the most transformative book I have read in at least twenty years! Duhigg is an award-winning New York Times business reporter who demonstrates his immense writing talent in taking the reader through the science of habit formation and reformation. In story after powerful story the reader learns the function of our habits, how they are formed, and how one can take control of our habits, breaking bad ones and forming desired ones.

The Power of Habit has me ruminating on the habits of leaders and the organizations they serve. My observation is that pastors and church leaders generally have very poor work habits. No don’t misunderstand me here.  I do not mean to imply that pastors and church leaders don’t work hard. I know that these leaders are some of the hardest working people in any industry. What I do mean to say however, is that it is my extensive observation over the past thirty years that very few pastors or church leaders are in the habit of working smart, efficient, or proactively. What the Church needs today is not more spiritual discipline, but more self-discipline of work habits.

Habits, Duhigg instructs, can be broken down into a “Trigger,” a “Routine,” and the attendant “Reward.” With regard to our work habits, it is imperative to identify the trigger that will initiate the habit routine that results, upon completion, with the reward, thus reinforcing the habit. One such work habit I would strongly suggest that church leaders acquire is the habit I call “Eat the Frog for Breakfast.” The idea for this habit is taken from the humorous quip from Mark Twain, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

Here is how this habit works for me. When I sit at my desk, the first thing I see is Smoochy the Frog. Smoochy is a Beanie Baby that sits on my desk and reminds me that my first task is to “Eat the Frog for Breakfast.” Triggered, I proceed to tackle the most disagreeable item on my daily “To Do” list. My reward for completing that task is that, in comparison, all the remaining tasks of the day seem pleasant. Plus, I have the inner satisfaction of knowing that I have courageously confronted my fears and accomplished one of the difficult tasks of leadership.

I encourage you to serious consider reading The Power of Habit and examining your own work and leadership habits. Perhaps you will even consider adopting the “Eat the Frog for Breakfast” habit. Both will teach you productive leadership habits.

The Rev. Dr. Steven Goodwin is a Lutheran minister who now serves God as the President of TurningWest, a national organization and leadership development firm (www.turningwest.com). He lives in Chino Hills, CA with Lisa, his wife of 29 years, while they support their two children away at college.