Here we are already in August of the New Year. And the question is…Have you stuck to any of the resolutions you made a few months back? Perhaps you set a goal to get to the gym more and eat healthier? Or was it something loftier, even inspirational: a desire to improve yourself, professional growth, or to develop your leadership abilities?

Whatever your goal may be, you already know that you can’t simply SAY you want to do something and it magically happens. You have to have strategies and tactics to make change a reality. So what can you do to change behavior and make change stick this year, and for many years to come? Here are three keys to behavior change to get you going:

  1. Be Specific – Focus on behavior you can see and count
  2. Be Accountable – Create opportunities for feedback
  3. Set a Timeline – Track your progress and readjust the plan

By way of example, let’s suppose that you want to focus on one of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®, to improve how you Inspire a Shared Vision with others. What are the strategies and tactics you could use to change your behavior and improve your effectiveness in this area?

       1. Be Specific

One of the keys to successful and lasting behavior change is to be very specific about what behavior you want to change. In fact, the first critical error we often make in setting a New Year’s Resolution is that it is too vague. So we recommend that you first choose a behavior you can see and count; identify how often you are engaging in the behavior currently; and then set a goal for yourself.

Leaders inspire others with their vision for the future and empower others to participate to make that vision a reality. A shared vision moves companies forward. If the goal is to Inspire a Shared Vision, be specific and define what behaviors you want to increase to make it happen. Do you find it challenging to create and describe images of what the future may look like? If so, start there. Or, do you have a harder time communicating with others about why they should be energized by the direction you are headed? Perhaps the first step is to outline your vision for the future and identify the key concepts to share. 

Let’s assume it’s the latter that you want to work on – helping others understand where you are headed and what that means for them? Here is a clear and specific way you could state that goal:

“I want to increase the frequency with which I talk with others about the company’s vision and how their needs will be met as we make progress toward this vision. To do this, I will include the company vision in our weekly staff meetings and talk with each team member at least weekly about their goals, giving them feedback on how I believe their goals can be met by achieving our vision.”

Now that you have set a specific behavioral goal, your next step is to identify how frequently you talk about, write about, or prompt others to explore this vision currently. This is your baseline data. If you want to see progress, you need to be realistic about how frequently the behavior is currently happening. Ultimately, you want to choose a behavior that you can track for progress, so that you can clearly see when progress is made.

       2. Be Accountable

Once you have identified a behavior you want to change, how do you track progress? Are you going to be tracking your own progress? Are you going to do this daily, weekly, or monthly? If you are serious in your desire to make progress, perhaps you should consider an added layer of accountability. People often act very differently when they know that they must be accountable to another person. When someone else is going to be checking in on your progress you may be more likely to stay true to your goal. Is there a colleague, supervisor, or coach you could let in on your goal to help keep you motivated and accountable? Can an aspect of your goal be added to a daily task list, weekly staffing meeting or even a company newsletter?

Focusing on our example of Inspire a Shared Vision, explore who might be appropriate to give you some feedback. It may be a direct report. Or, better yet, let your whole team know that you are working on this for your own leadership development and ask for their feedback. Personal growth and improvement can be infectious, motivating others to share their own goals while supporting you. Consider scheduling check-ins with team members for feedback. This can even be done by email to keep things simple.

          3. Set a Timeline

Of course, setting a timeline for success—with deadlines—is essential to help keep the end-goal in mind. Intermediate or short-term benchmarks can help you stay on track. Include dates to check in with yourself, your coach, or others. Make realistic benchmarks for success, focusing on doing more of what’s working while discontinuing strategies that are not.

Remember to take time to assess your progress and take pride in your accomplishments. As you work to be more effective in Inspiring a Shared Vision, perhaps you are finding it more comfortable to talk with people one-on- one, but struggle when it comes to inspiring the team as a group. By all means, continue those one-on-one conversations. Also ask yourself if there is a way to add that comfort you feel to the larger group? Would different tactics work better for you? Writing out what you want to say? Asking the group to identify group goals that mirror their own personal goals?

Mark your calendar! Somehow work your changes into each day on your calendar. Set up meetings to talk with constituents about their goals. Emphasize the shared vision in regular meetings or brainstorming sessions. Daily practice is essential to success. Change requires constant reassessment and maintenance until the goal is accomplished and the new behavior becomes integrated into your natural repertoire.

Behavior change as a leader can be difficult. When all eyes are on YOU, a change in your behavior can feel painfully obvious. We don’t like to feel we’re on stage, displaying our failures. However, successful leaders take risks (Challenge the Process), Model the Way, and Inspire a Shared Vision for future growth and development—both personal and professional.

This article first appeared in The Leadership Challenge Newsletter at www.leadershipchallenge.comIt was co-authored by Ann Baloski is the Founder of BehaviorWorks LLC. Passionate about promoting positive behavior change using the principles of behavior analysis, she is Board Certified in Behavior Analysis and has been providing behavioral support to children and adults with disabilities for over 12 years. She can be reached at [email protected].