The Power of Habit | Book Review

Charles Duhigg’s recent (2012) book is a deep dive into the origins of habits, supported by real stories and experimental evidence advising us how to recognize and change our habits as part of our leadership journey. Part One focuses on The Habits of Individuals, Part Two on The Habits of Successful Organizations, and Part Three highlights The Habits of Societies. This review focuses primarily on Part One, as an appeal to each of us for self-examination, reflection, and personal growth challenge.

Part One | The Habits of Individuals

In the prologue (xiv – xv), Duhigg introduces Keystone Habits; single behavioral patterns (exercise, for example) capable of further changing other behaviors. Keystone Habits seem analogous to High Payoff Activities (HPAs) from our Setting Leadership Priorities workshop.

On page 18, an efficient brain is described as one not thinking about basic behaviors. A natural leadership analogue is for us to instill within ourselves (and our organizations) habits which can efficiently run the organization thereby allowing us mental energy for people, creativity, invention, etc.… - or important not urgent category activities increasing opportunities.

In chapter two, The Craving Brain (p. 43), Duhigg asks “How do you build a new habit when there’s no cue to trigger usage, and when the consumers (emphasis added) who most need it don’t appreciate the reward?” As leaders, we may replace consumers with team members challenging ourselves to understand which team cravings (pp. 47-51) drive behaviors as the critical first step in overpowering habits. The email chime example on page 50 is an excellent common example we face daily.

Note to Academy Leadership Affiliates

Page 55 begs the question: “What do Academy Leadership clients crave?” This made me think of recent Enbridge Energy client programs. A craving habit loop may be forming at Enbridge where the craving for interactivity (or the confirmation that Enbridge personnel really know each other) is satisfied via use of E2L profiles. Since the 66-person E2L workshop, Enbridge personnel have been posting their E2L profiles in their Superior, WI offices. Maybe we can create cravings habits for our leadership programs.

On page 61, the Tony Dungy story about “starting to believe” is very similar to the assistant coach’s response to Coach Grant Taylor in the Facing the Giants video clip from our Personal Leadership Philosophy workshop. After the assistant coach says “Alright – who’s next?” he tells Coach Taylor that he is on-board with the new team leadership philosophy.

Page 84 is powerful. The Alcoholics Anonymous message strongly suggests that replacement habits only become durable when replaced with something purposeful – reinforcing the need for and power of a written Personal Leadership Philosophy.

Parts Two and Three

Parts two and three are recommended for their stories, and for reflecting how the several examples apply to each of us individually, and to our organizations.

A final observation: On page 120, researchers found a keystone habit – food journaling –, which is a great reminder for us to re-think and reinforce our own journaling habits.

This is a fine book to read during personal goal setting, or when challenging ourselves what we may do differently as we progress through our own leadership path.

JE | July 2013