Skills, Attitudes and Habits that Make Us Better Leaders

We all know (either by experience or by research) that people who like us and trust us are much more likely to work with us or refer us or our services to their peers, friends and social circles.

In his book “Top of Mind“, John Hall talks about some rules, skills and habits that can help us become more likeable, trust worthy and top-of-mind, as he calls.

These are:

Shift the spotlight:

This is easy to say but extremely difficult to do. A lot of us enjoy being in the spotlight and find it difficult to leave it, let along shift the spotlight to others. However, good leaders have the uncanny ability to shift the spotlight to their team members, customers or partners when it is time to praise and shift it on themselves if there is something to be questioned or blamed.

This ability to shift spotlight requires us to be engaged and mindful about us and our surroundings all the time, which is why it is not easy.

Listen More, Talk Less:

We all know that we all like to talk about ourselves, our interests, our challenges, our issues, our passions, our goals, etc. Good leaders know this and allow others to do bulk of the talking and are engaged in active listening. This means that they are attentive to what is being said and are able to keep the conversation going with others wanting to continue to talk more.

My first boss had this uncanny ability to get us all share much more than we intended to by just using questions (which in reality were never questions – and, hmm hmm…, Ok, each followed by a pause) and pauses which cause some sort of vacuum in the conversation. More often than not, the other person tends to want to fill the vacuum by adding something else and the process would continue.

Don’t Practice Selective Hearing:

We are all guilty of practicing selective hearing. My son knows this and makes the most of it. He knows that when I am working on my laptop, my full attention is on the work that I am doing on my laptop, he will come and ask me if he can watch TV or play on his tab or read something on his kindle. If I am not mindful enough, I would return to my default answer, which incidentally happens to be ok. He has used this strategy so successfully, so many times, that now I sit up and pay full attention when he asks me of something.

By default, our brain does selective screening of all our senses to make sense of the world around us. If we add to this filtering, further filtering, we will miss most of the contextual information, which is where most insights, intelligence and opportunities lie.

We are all guilty of checking our phones when talking to someone or watching TV when playing with our kids or talking to our spouse. This is what leads to selective hearing. We need to try to be fully present and gift our full attention to the people or task in front of us.

Give Before They Receive:

The very act of giving our full attention to someone is a gift that we give them. This then leads us to better understand the person we are engaging with and that is the second gift that we give them. Once we have the understanding of what is important to a person, good leaders ensure that they practice, what I call small acts of kindness with everyone that they come in contact with.

They give (time, attention, money, at times, or anything else) because they feel that it is the right thing to do and not to keep score or with expectations. This is what amplifies the small acts of kindness into joy and happiness.

Choose their words carefully:

As the old saying goes,

An arrow that leaves the bow and the words that leave our tongue can never be reversed.

Good leaders understand the criticality of this and err on saying little when they are emotionally charged rather than err on saying more.

The tone and the body language in which they speak are as important to a conversation and being top of mind as the content of what is spoken as well.

Deal with Failure (Their own and others):

When it comes to failures, good leaders

  1. Don’t discuss the failings and failures of others publicly.
  2. But readily admit their failings and failures publicly.

What they do afterwards is what makes them good or great. They talk about the learnings from these failures, their own and others.

Either ways, they don’t shy away from dealing with failures as they understand that success and failures are part and parcel of the experience called life and as Benjamin Zanders and Rosamund Zanders had said in their book – “The Art of Possibility”, everything is invented. So, lets invent something that works better for us.


If you look at most of these, we can see that the ability to be mindful is the foundation on which all the other practises are built. So, apart from having a good, strong, moral character, these are all skills and habits that each one of us can cultivate within ourselves.

We need to realise and accept is that it is extremely difficult for anyone to be able to practice and exhibit all of these behaviours at all the times.

So, the first step is to take stock of our current behaviours and identify the areas where are naturally good in and areas where we need to put in deliberate attempt and effort to get better. Once we have done this, we could look at applying some or all of the following to help fasten the process of improvement:

  1. Identify and get an accountability buddy.
  2. Create a commitment device and publicly commit to improving in a specific area.
  3. Try to see if there is anything that you can change in your environment that can help increase/decrease something that you are working on.
  4. Focus on building habits using the Trigger, action, reward framework.
  5. Identify the emotion behind the act and let it be.

As long as we try to make these habitual, we will tend to go back to our original selves due to psychological and emotional inertia.


How to Get Better at Dealing with Change

We live in an age where we see accelerating change all around us. Large, extremely successful businesses go bankrupt in a matter of years, if not quarters; companies with billion dollar evaluations are born in the matter of years; as consumers, there is something new that is becoming a rage almost every week.

Change is all around us. Whether we like it or not, we will have to deal with change – in our personal lives as well as in our professional lives.

The question then is the following:

Do we embrace change and benefit from it or resist change and remain stuck in a world that no longer exists?

Change in personal lives:

The speed at which things change in our personal lives is also unprecedented. There are new tools, products and services that are launched with the promise of redefining our lives. Some of them do and some of them don’t.

Having a sense of our true north:

When you are navigating change all around you, you need a map to help you navigate the change. If you don’t have a map, you at least need a compass, which can help you know where is the true north and thereby help you navigate the unknown territory. Today, it has become a lot more important and critical for each one of us to know what is our true north. What is most important and dear to us.

What are the musts (non-negotiables), shoulds (you would love to have/do if possible), could’s (non-critical but nice to have/do) and Won’ts (actively avoid) in your lives?

This clarity will help you identify changes, innovations and new opportunities that you can benefit from and also the changes, innovations and opportunities that you need to avoid.

Personal productivity:

Once you have defined your true north, actively look for opportunities that can help you make your life more productive and enjoyable.

Time is the only variable or asset that is non-renewable and depleting. So, block some time on your calendar to explore new innovations that will help you eliminate/automate activities from your life so that you get more time to do what is most important to you.

This approach will help you not only actively look for change in your life but also make it much more productive and a happier life.

Remember Rule No – 6:

In their book – The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Zanders and Benjamin Zanders share the story of a diplomat. The story goes like something this:

Two ministers were sitting together discussion matters of national importance, when one of the secretaries of the minister who was hosting the meeting came rushing in, all flustered and totally animated. The minister then tells her – remember rule no. 6. The moment she hears this, she totally transforms and becomes calm and walks out of the room.

A little later in the meeting, another assistant of the minister walks in hurriedly and tries to whisper something in the ears of the minister. The minister again tells his assistant – Remember rule no. 6 and he also calms down and bows and walks out of the meeting.

The visiting minister was now curious. He asks the host – if I may ask, what is rule no. 6?

The host replies – Never take yourself so god-damn seriously.

The visiting minister then asks – what if i may ask are the other rules?

The host replies – there are none.

The point is that in our day-to-day lives, we end up taking every little thing seriously. This is what leads to a lot of stress. Once we decide not to take ourselves so seriously, we start to slow down and that enables us to develop a longer term perspective and find some humour in all kinds of situations. This takes all the stress about impending change away, as fear and humour cant be room-mates.

Change in Professional Lives:

The pace at which organisational change their business models, their go-to-market strategies, their product mix, their org structures is unprecedented. In this scenario, there are a few things that you can do to not just embrace this change but also thrive in it:

Understand the reasoning behind the change:

The biggest reason why we fear change is because we don’t know what it will bring with it. As they say,

The fear of something is always worse than the actual thing.

The biggest reason why we resist change is because, forced change makes us feel out-of-control. We don’t like being out-of-control.

Once we understand the reason behind the change, we can feel a sense of control back. Also, once we understand the rationale, we can also understand what the change is driving us towards. Once we know the end-game, we can understand what is in store for us in the new reality.

We then need to use something that is innately a human trait – imagination.

We need to imagine the new reality and what would it look and feel like.

  • What would it take for someone to be successful in that reality?
  • Will our skill-sets be an asset in that reality or will they become liability?
    • If they are an asset, how can we build on that and showcase it to the right people (who would these right people be?)
    • If they become liability, what will need to be done now, so that we can change that and develop skills to become an asset instead?
  • What new opportunities and threats will the new reality bring with it?
  • How can we use these to become a more valuable contributor to the team and the organisation?

Once we have thought through these, the fear of change will reduce and will be replaced by an optimism for the new reality, as you will know what the new reality will look and feel like. Once you already know how you will succeed in that new reality, so there is nothing to fear about.

Stay away from gossips:

The biggest culprit of spreading fear of change is gossips in the organisation. Gossips happen when there is not enough communication from the leaders of the organisation about the reason for the change and the vision for the new reality.

If that is the case, then it is best to stay away from gossips. While it will be very tempting to participate in the gossips, it is extremely counter-productive as these gossips will only increase your anxiety and thereafter your fear for what the future holds. We already know that the fear of something is much worse than the thing itself.

So, lets do ourselves a favour and stay away from gossips.

Be a Corporate Adventurer:

The way we see ourselves makes a big differnce in how we deal with change coming our way. If we define ourselves as a corporate adventurer, who is out there in the wild to do new stuff, explore new territories, learn new things, meet new people and have fun along the way, then every change that is thrown at us becomes yet another adventure to go on.

Instead of becoming fearful of the change, we start looking at the new places this change will take us to, what kind of new people will we meet on the ride and what fun will we have all along.

Instead of feeling out-of-control, you will long for new change initiatives to be launched, so that you can go on your next adventure.

Attitude to change matters more than anything else. Lets invent one that suits us.

Find some humour in the situation:

Finally, it is important for each one of us to find some humour in our professional lives as well. Most of us have forgotten to have fun at work. Play or fun seems to be delegated to when we have leisure time.

In my experience, I have found that leaving fun or play to leisure time is a big mistake and one that we are all guilty of doing. Have some fun at work. Play. Find some humour in the little things in the office.


There is an inherently human trait that each one of us have – We see what we seek.

So, if we seek anxiety, we will find it all around us;

if we seek fear, we will find it all around us;

if we seek negativity, we will find it all around us;

This also means that

if we seek positivity, we will find it all around us;

if we seek opportunity, we will find it all around us;

if we seek fun, we will find it all around us;

if we seek adventure, we will find it all around us;

if we seek meaning, we will find it all around us.

So, instead of focusing on all the inherently negative emotions, lets start looking for all the positive things in our lives and in the changes that are forced on us and have one hell of a ride with it.

PS: Have some fun watching the below:

When its time to change, you have to rearrange…

As Leaders, We all Should Follow Rule No. 6

In his book, “The Art of Possibility“, Ben Zanders offers pearls of wisdom. One of the most important piece of wisdom that we can learn from the book is what he refers to as “Rule No: 6”.


  • If as leaders, we follow this rule, we could potentially make less mistakes and learn much more from the one’s that we do make;
  • If as parents, we followed this rule, we create the possibility of a long, well nurtured and meaningful relationship with our children;
  • If as spouse, we followed this rule. we can create the possibility of a much more deeper and meaningful relationship with our partner;
  • The authors recommend that if we make a mistake, we should say out loud (& hence mean) “How Fascinating” and learn from the mistake. Add this to the Rule No 6, and we could have a lot of fun along the way

So what is Rule No 6? IT simply states: Don’t take yourself so god damn seriously!

So, what are the other rules: “None”

There are no other rules!

As parents, teachers, spouses and leaders, we take ourselves and our position of power too seriously and lose our ability to laugh at ourself.

If there is anything that could dramatically improve our quality of life and the ability to lead in uncertain times, it this this ability to not only laugh at our own mistakes and learn from them. This rule also suggests that you could learn from everyone around you as much as they could learn from you.

So, let me follow Rule No 6 and “How Fascinating” this is !

Do share your thoughts about this approach to life and leadership.

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