Executive-habits-success

Skills or Habits—What’s The Best Way to Level Up?

What is most important when hiring an executive; their knowledge, attitude, skills, or habits?

When I was in my 20s and a newly appointed VP, Marshall Goldsmith asked me that question during a management training.

I replied smugly, “Attitude.” I say smugly because everyone else at the training was at least two decades older than me and I believed Marshall was making the point that they were old school in the way they selected employees.

At the time, hiring decisions were made largely based on the candidate’s pedigree–knowledge and skills – which can easily be acquired or replaced. There are always multiple candidates who have excellent skills. But what I thought set candidates apart was the right attitude—ambition, work ethic, and attributes like being a team player.

I was shocked when Marshall said the correct answer was not knowledge, skills or attitude.

The correct answer was habits!

He agreed with me that knowledge and skills can be acquired. But attitude is too unreliable to use as a factor. It is too easily influenced by management style and morale.

Habits are what 90% of high performing, successful leaders have in common. Habits are deeply ingrained in our lives and unconscious – and habits are the hardest to change.

Whether you agree that it’s the most important hiring factor or not, coaches who work with high performers know habits matter to those who want higher levels of satisfaction and achievement. More importantly, it is the fastest way to see results.

The key to a better future is hidden in your day to day actions.

There are helpful and supportive habits, and we all have a few unhelpful or unhealthy habits. In fact, you probably have many more habits than you are not aware of.

Habits are created by repetition. You’ll see this demonstrated the next time you get in your car. Notice that you don’t think about putting on your seatbelt, you just do it.

Luckily, new habits can be created consciously – to help create more success in life.

“With the help of daily habits, you can transform your life from being an unhealthy, unhappy, struggling-on-many-fronts couch potato, into a fit, healthy, happy, successful person.”  –Joanna Jast, Hack Your Habits 

To create your own daily success habits, answer the questions below – and remember, the responses will be unique to you. However odd or unusual, however boring your answers seem – it doesn’t matter, you know what is best for you. Just write it down and don’t judge.

  1. Where do I sabotage myself on a daily basis? What could I do instead or differently?
  2. What could I do at work on a daily basis that would set me up for success?
    Examples: structured processes, get up earlier, not check email until 11am, set a timer when on social media
  3. What would make me more grounded on a daily basis? What would foster my physical body and health? Examples: self-care activities, a yoga or meditation practice, daily walk or run, drinking 6-8 glasses of water
  4. What is missing in my life? What do I want more of? Examples: fun, solitude, quiet, beauty, money, sex
  5. How could I nurture important relationships in my life on a daily basis? What about feeding the relationship with myself? Examples: 5-15 minutes of connecting/listening to our spouse/children/selves/journaling – without distraction, machine-free time, taking a vacation or holiday
  6. What do I need to do on a daily or weekly basis to be the best I can be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? Examples: improve sleep habits, finish my degree, better support system/advice or sounding board
  7. What do I already know I need to do, but am just not implementing?

Why not just pick one new habit to get started with? Thinking over your answers to the questions above, what ONE daily habit would make the MOST difference to your success? 


Don’t think about it. Don’t play with it. Simply DECIDE you are going to implement this new habit. Decide you will do whatever it takes to make it happen. Just like resolutions and goals, it’s your commitment that will make the difference.

EXAMPLE: A weekly habit I developed was to use reusable shopping bags. It started with a decision. I bought some reusable bags. For a while I kept forgetting to bring the bags into the store with me. Cue many rushed trips back to the car to grab the shopping bags. I’ve now reached a point where 95% of the time, I grab those bags on the way into the store.

When you start creating a new habit, you may not remember until it’s too late. But keep at it and gradually you remember earlier and earlier, until it becomes natural. The most important factor in creating a habit – is repetition. 

Being clear on the benefit of the habit, giving yourself a reward helps – but it’s mainly just practice and repetition. A habit starts with an action, and becomes a habit over time as the action is repeated. On the days you forget your new habit, be kind to yourself. It’s just fine. Simply commit to remembering next time.

Commit to it, commit to yourself – and stay with it. You WILL get there if you want to!

“Choose your habits as if your life depends on them, because it does.” ― Gift Gugu Mona

Dana Mayer, Executive Coaching & Management Consultant