[Posted by Mike Scher, January 5, 2016] Estimated Time to Read: 4 minutes, 18 seconds

Stephen Covey’s classic bestseller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®” has been helping people solve personal and professional problems for 15 years. Today, I’m sharing my take on the habits that have energized and re-focused our executive team this past year, making us more productive, accountable and efficient than ever before.

  1. Be proactive

If you find that your company is plodding along with no real direction, it’s time to make a choice; a choice to make this the year your company gets completely healthy from the top down.

Disorganization at the top filters down into every aspect of the business. This year, spend a day (or 3) really examining the company from a high level to determine what is going well and push yourself to identify areas that aren’t. It can be difficult to look closely at your structure and operations and admit that changes might need to be made – but don’t go with the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mentality. If the top isn’t sound, it will eventually impact the company’s success.

  1. Begin with the end in mind

How do you see your company in 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? Where do you want to go? If you don’t know that, how can you drive the company forward successfully? It’s important to identify that vision and start aligning everything you do in the company to achieve that vision.

  1. Put first things first

Ever wonder how a 10-hour day slips away without getting the most important tasks done? That stops in 2016. First things first: each executive chooses 3-7 things they commit to achieving this quarter. And every day, the first thing they do is action any item necessary to reach one of those goals. Instead of tackling all the every-day, nagging tasks when you get to the office, start with the big things to ensure they take precedence.

This next piece is important: Once you have set your goals, choose one person/group who you will be accountable to and report to them weekly on the steps you are taking to achieve those goals. This process prevents the goal from being pushed off as other ‘more important’ initiatives take over. Your goals for the quarter are your goals—period. Should another fabulous idea arrive at some point, it gets put on the list for the next quarter.

  1. Think Win-Win

A win-win attitude may sound like a cliché but at it’s core, it’s an excellent way for executives to lead. It requires one to be courageous—but considerate. Empathetic—but confident. Leadership isn’t a dictatorship, however being a leader means making the hard decisions. To be a more effective leader, strike a balance between ‘nice’ and ‘tough’. A win-win attitude earns respect from your team without undermining your commitment to accountability.

  1. Seek first to understand, then to be understood

I don’t know anyone who couldn’t improve their communication skills a bit. Communication is not just expressing thoughts or feelings:  it is the fundamental way humans connect with one another. In the business world, stellar communication skills are critical to managing and leading a team.

If you are like most people in a conversation, it’s most important for you to get your point across (i.e. be understood). However, if you’re intent on sharing your thoughts, you aren’t really hearing the other person—you are simply waiting for your turn to talk. Listening is the greatest form of influence and being curious is the sincerest way to listen.  When you are curious, you cannot be arrogant.  Think about how much more productive meetings would be if participants actually listened and understood before launching into a diatribe about why the group should listen to them!

  1. Synergize

While this is one of my least favorite buzzwords, it’s meaning is powerful. Creative cooperation is a much better way to think of it. It’s about appreciating the differences in your executive team and your employees. How boring (and likely unsuccessful) would your company be if everyone thought just like you? Sure, you’re outstanding at what you do, but different skill sets and mindsets working collaboratively make a company great. Let this be the year you open your mind to ideas that don’t necessarily make sense to you the first time around. Seek first to understand (be curious), then be understood—you’ll be amazed at how much more receptive you are to opinions and solutions you never considered before.

  1. Sharpen the saw

I see this habit a bit differently than Stephen Covey. To us, this is a scheduled meeting every 3 months to step back and:

  • Review the quarter overall
  • Review and get updates on goals each executive has set for themselves
  • Most importantly, determine the next quarter’s goals

Most companies do a similar review once a year. But when you let that much time pass before you assess your progress, you’ve lost months of productivity on projects that may have had a significant impact on your business within that year. A quarterly, offsite, focused review allows you to stay on track, adjust your goals as needed, and really connect with the executive team to make sure you are still heading in the direction you agreed upon.

The most important part of all these habits is to indeed, make them habits! Every year, every quarter, every week, every day.