Peter told me that it would take twelve weeks to get used to coffee without sugar. I took the leap, joined the crusade and made the break. How bad can twelve weeks be I told myself? I removed the little innocuous ray of sunshine from my morning espresso, and every other espresso after that. I certainly wasn’t ready for the next twelve weeks of being aware that something ever so small and ever so tempting was ever so absent.
The struggle was real. Peter is gifted.
Quitting sugar brought into sharp focus the power and subtlety of my habits. What habits are resourceful? What habits aren’t? Where have I stopped noticing any decline? What might be eroding my progress? Where must I make change? It was like 4K technology met influence in vivid sight and sound. Charles Duhigg said in his book, the Power of Habit that, “This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.” I have chosen incorrectly on occasions. Duhigg goes on to say “The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.” So it’s possible go sugar free! Good news for leaders.
Sugar crept up on me big time. Unless we’re ruthlessly proactive, leadership has a syrupy dark side that we each succumb to in our own ways. It’s an artificial high. As leaders we need to develop relationships, disciplines, rhythms, and strategies that ensure we rely less on the fake high and more on the deeper, internal well of resources we develop over time.
Here are five sweet temptations leaders face:
- Power: Keeping it centralised and controlled.
- Focus: Our emotional energy is always on ourselves.
- Language: Using I/me consistently when we speak.
- Affirmation: Needing and craving it too much.
- Criticism: Taking it too personally too much of the time.
The leadership sugar high is artificial, hazardous, and unhelpful for progress. Like all quit programs, we need to realise the need for change, have a way to make the change, and develop new habits to embed the change.
Perfection isn’t your goal. Progress is. When you first quit you notice its absence. Over time you find new pathways. With diligence and discipline you discover you can lead with almost no sugar whatsoever. Charles Duhigg again reminds us that habits are both real AND adaptable when he states“This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: THE HABIT LOOP” Leadership habits is about creating resourceful loops.
Here’s a starting point to reframe the syrupy side of your leadership:
- Power: Extend trust, share power and give it away with clear communication and accountability.
- Focus: Become an “attention out” leader. Focus attention and energy on others. (Attribution @mattchurch)
- Language: Use “we/us” language and ensure your engagement and inclusion is authentic.
- Affirmation: Look for ways to identify and amplify the contribution of others.
- Criticism: Reframe it as feedback. Learn from what you hear and use it as a launch pad for growth.
Be explicit about why you want this change, how you’d like it to be different, and what behaviour will be the evidence for the transformation occurring. What you’ll notice is, over time, you won’t need that sugar at all.
This is for leaders. I am for leaders.