Would it surprise you to learn that successful leaders behave differently than most people?
They approach their lives differently because they know that winning is so much more fun and rewarding compared to losing that they never want to stop.
They want to make it a way of life and have found that “general consistency wins out every time.” So they establish their game plan and stay with it.
That causes them to do certain things so consistently that these habits become automatic. Life moves so fast that they are determined to spend as much time as possible doing things rather than thinking about them.
They figure out what works for them and then they do it again and again. Eventually, they don’t even think twice about it.
It’s common for people to visit and to spend some time with me during my day. Basically, they’ll just tag along with me for a couple of hours as I go about my business.
Inevitably, I hear the same comments from them when we go our separate ways.
They always say things like, “Wow! I can’t believe how organized and efficient you and your staff are.” Or they’ll tell me, “You get things handled so quickly!”
Truthfully, these comments always serve as a bit of a wake-up call for me . . . I’m shocked to hear it, because I’m just going about my business as usual.
I’m just moving along, as I always do, in the process of getting things done the best way I’ve learned how to do them. But I’m not stagnant because that causes you to become stale.
I’m constantly trying to improve myself by becoming more efficient and by helping my staff become more efficient. The advantage of doing things quicker, faster, better is not just improving the bottom line. It keeps you fresh and makes things a lot more fun to do when you can get them done quickly.
When you have this mindset, it transforms you, and it allows you to naturally do certain things without even thinking—it just becomes part of your routine. Develop the right tendencies, and you’ll begin to win automatically.
That’s what inspired me to write this guide.
Depending on your industry, experience, and position, your day may look very different than mine. In fact, all of my days look different. But there are certain trends that all successful leaders have in common—regardless of their job.
I have narrowed down the top 12 things that successful leaders do so frequently that they are automatic. They can be subdivided between 4 different categories. Use this as a reference to see how many of these things you already do innately.
Successful Leaders Create a Routine
Winners don’t wake up and ask themselves, “What am I going to do today?”
You need to have a plan. Stick to your plan and make it become automatic—like breathing.
For example, how long does it take you to get ready each morning?
The amount of time it takes you to get ready depends on your morning routine. It may sound silly, but think about it for a moment.
Do you put on your socks before you brush your teeth? Do you eat breakfast in your work clothes or your pajamas? Do you make your bed before or after your shower?
If you had to think twice about these things every day, it would take you so much longer to get ready.
This adds up quickly. If it takes you an extra 10 minutes to get ready each day, that comes out to more than 60 hours every year being wasted. That’s an entire work week—plus overtime.
There is a big difference between being busy and being productive.
To maximize efficiency, start at the very beginning.
1. Wake Up Early
Early for you may not be early for someone else, and that may change depending on your health, your daily commitments, what happened the night before, and many other variables.
But certain things are always true. It takes a certain amount of time to get going and up to full speed in the morning. It’s easier if you allow yourself a head start and give yourself some time.
Jerking out of bed at the last minute to run out the door is going to cause you stress and won’t save you that much time overall.
Also, successful leaders always have more to do than there are hours in the day.
They want to be up as early as possible to make sure they get everything done and minimize the amount of rushing and stress needed.
With the exception of musicians, professional athletes, and entertainers, the earlier people get up, the more likely they are to be successful.
Here are some great examples of successful leaders who rise early.
- 3:45 AM — Tim Cook — CEO of Apple
- 4:30 AM — Bob Iger — CEO of Disney
- 5:00 AM — Tim Armstrong — CEO of AOL
Don’t get me wrong . . . I’m not saying you need to wake up before 4:00 in the morning—that’s a little extreme. But I make sure I’m up before the sun every single day.
According to a recent study from the Harvard Business Review, people who have their performance peaked in the morning have a greater opportunity for successful careers.
So . . . SSYUFS! Set yourself up for success.
Rising early also indicates another level of discipline and planning because waking up early means you’ll need to get to bed early as well.
People who do things by the seat of their pants are not going to be thinking about that the night before.
Another study conducted by the University of Toronto concluded that people who wake up early are happier and healthier than those who stay up late at night.
Successful leaders make time to take care of their bodies.
You don’t need to lift weights like a bodybuilder or run like you’re training for a marathon to get a good workout. Do what works well for you—as long as it involves physical activity that takes effort.
If you walk or run, you have to stretch those legs out and swing your arms to get the sweat going.
Stretch, lift weights, challenge yourself.
What you don’t use, you lose. If you don’t stretch, you lose range of motion. If you don’t use your strength, you’ll lose it.
It’s true—you’re either growing or dying. You’re either getting better or worse. You’re either getting stronger or weaker.
In addition to strengthening your body, daily exercise also improves your mind. Working out relieves stress, and it helps ensure that you fall asleep sooner and that you sleep soundly through the night.
You’ll wake up feeling refreshed—allowing yourself time to get up early, as we discussed.
Winners prioritize exercise the same way they do meals. You need to eat and drink water to survive—automatically. Look at your workout routine in the same way.
3. Eat Well
How often do you drive by a fast food restaurant and impulsively pull into the drive-through? Don’t do that. That’s impulsive eating.
Do you throw cookies and cake into your shopping cart at the grocery store? Don’t do that. That leads to impulsive eating.
Usually, successful leaders don’t do anything impulsively for long because it does not turn out well. In a period of stress, they might. But eventually, they settle down into a proper diet and routine.
All of these approaches relate to living by the seat of your pants.
For example, I worked so hard my first year when I expanded my business into North Carolina that I ate impulsively all the time. The result was that I gained fifty pounds in just one year.
Eventually, I snapped to attention and got myself back under control. It was unpleasant to do but necessary. I did not have a choice.
That’s why if you check in with most successful leaders, you’ll find that eating well is part of their daily routine. They don’t have to think twice about it. Their meals are planned out, and they don’t regularly make rash or impulsive decisions when it comes to their diet.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that you can’t live a little. Do I enjoy some sweets or a cheeseburger from time to time? Of course, I do.
Everything is OK in moderation, but successful leaders are conscious of what they eat and how those foods impact their mind and their body.
Winners treat their bodies like race cars. They know if they’re going to ask their bodies to give them high performance, then they need to give their bodies high-performance support and nutrition.
You need to build layers of protection in your life. Just like in medieval times, they had moats and walls to keep everything out. As a leader, you need to build layers to protect yourself from surprises.
Put spiritual, financial, mental, and health rings around you and your world to protect yourself from things that might sneak up on you. And remember, what you eat today can either help or harm you tomorrow.
Successful Leaders Work Smart
You’ve heard of working “smarter” not harder. Here are some ways that successful leaders maximize productivity.
4. Touch Things Once
Successful leaders don’t procrastinate. They are “now” people. They do things now.
As much as possible, they touch things once, discuss things once, decide, and then move on with their day.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
When emails come in, you don’t work your way through them—you race your way through them. That way, when you have a delicate or complex issue, you have time to spend on it.
Push to become a now person. If you don’t do it now, when will you have time later?Push to become a now person. If you don't do it now, when will you have time later? Click To Tweet
If you touch things more than once, it kills your productivity and efficiency. Putting things off just gives you more things to do at a later time, which adds to your stress level as well.
Do things right the first time.
5. Delegate Tasks Efficiently
Leaders know the strengths and weakness of everyone they manage.
They know how to maximize those strengths and how to strengthen any weaknesses within their team.
You can’t do everything yourself. It’s a big mistake that I see people make all of the time in business.
Trust your team. Set them up for success.
Give them specific tasks and deadlines that you can quickly check to see if they’ve completed.
If you give someone something to do, let them do it. If they fail, you can correct them, and they’ll do better next time. Micromanage everyone all the time, and you’ll grind your team to a dead stop.
Sometimes you need to micromanage. Sometimes it’s a new person or a particularly sensitive task, but you can’t manage everyone like that all the time.
This is how you motivate people, not by bossing them around. They should be excited that you trust them enough to handle things, and they should know exactly how they’re contributing to the success of the company.
Take responsibility if you want people to respect you and to follow your lead. No one respects a supervisor who just tells them what to do and then goes and sleeps at their desk for the rest of the day.
6. Focus Your Energy
Are you familiar with the Pareto Principle? It’s also called the 80/20 Rule.
The idea is that 80% of results come from 20% of the people.
It’s a tool that is often used for maximizing business efficiency. Successful leaders understand that 20% of any given staff does 80% of the work, while the remaining 80% of the staff only does 20% of the work.
Additionally, this can translate to 80% of revenue coming from only 20% of customers. Successful leaders know which 20% of everything to focus on to set themselves up to win.Successful leaders know which 20% of everything to focus on to set themselves up to win. Click To Tweet
Life is like a game. You can apply this same principle to maximize your efficiency outside of the workplace.
Successful Leaders Protect Work and Life Balance
Successful leaders aren’t slaves to their job all the time. Sometimes it’s unavoidable when there’s a big deadline coming—but you get in trouble when it becomes an all the time thing.
They understand that their job doesn’t define who they are as a person. There is so much more to life than just working.
You need to create a balance in your life, but there is a huge trick to it.
The key is realizing that your work and your personal life are both parts of who you are. They are just different sides of the same thing—you.
We stay upright and successfully move through life using our left leg and right leg—one supporting the other. Same with business and personal life, they need to move forward together in harmony. That’s the only way to have balance.
Know when it’s appropriate to answer a personal call when you’re working, or when it’s OK to respond to a work email when you’re spending time with your family.
Sure—there are definitely certain instances when you’ll need to cross over between your work and personal life. But don’t make a habit of doing it all of the time.
You shouldn’t be putting your head down and working exactly 40 hours every week to just completely check out at the bell.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t be working 100 hours a week without doing anything for yourself.
Successful people stay calm because they are able to create a balance between their personal life and their professional life.
7. Say “No”
It’s easy to say yes. It’s tough to say no.
Everyone has ideas on how you should spend your money and time. And if you say yes to all of them, you won’t have any money or time left.
The choice of what you say yes to should reflect what you value the most. When you say no, that doesn’t mean the thing or person has no value. You just don’t have the interest and/or time to accommodate that particular thing or person right now.
I say no every day. I don’t do this to be rude or disrespectful. I do it because not everything someone asks me to do is going to be best for me and my situation.
Leaders don’t have a problem saying no. You shouldn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable doing this.
In fact, saying no is one of the things you never need to apologize for again.
If you practice saying no, anything you say yes to becomes that much more impactful.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Warren Buffett has the same mentality. He was quoted saying, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”
8. Schedule Time for Themselves
Put time for yourself on your calendar like any other appointment.
Schedule time for your spouse. Schedule time for your kids. Schedule some mental health time for yourself.
We all regularly need time to catch up, think about things, work on special projects, go visit friends we haven’t seen in a while, go shopping for things that we need to get, and just have some fun.
It’s your life. Why should you feel guilty scheduling time for yourself? The most productive results will come from those times.
Every day I manage to find some time for myself. It’s been part of my routine—now I do this automatically.
Life can feel overwhelming at times. Your phone is always ringing, your emails are piling up, your text messages won’t stop buzzing, and there’s always something that needs your attention.
If you focus on these things 24/7, you’ll drive yourself crazy.
Making time for yourself is easier than you might think. After lunch, take 15 or 20 minutes to just go for a walk. Listen to music. Take deep breaths.
Put your phone on silent or leave it in your office.
Taking time to yourself each day is a great way to prevent feeling burned out.
9. Protect What’s Important
What’s important to you?
Sure—work puts money in your pocket and food on your table . . . But this can’t be the most important thing in your life.
When I started my own business, I always fought to take time for what was important to me—my spiritual life, my beliefs, my family, people and causes I believed in.
I learned how to schedule my time effectively to either spend time with them in the morning, in the afternoon, or at night. I learned that it was always possible to find time for these important things once I made them a priority. I would be happy to spend time working late if it meant I could spend time with my family during the afternoon.
You may have different things in your life that are the most important to you. And that’s for you to decide. Regardless, the key to success is making time for those things—you’ll be so much happier.
Successful Leaders Stay Inspired
Successful leaders don’t need someone else to motivate them.
They do this on their own, automatically, by keeping their attention on their goals and on others who are doing exciting things in life.
They notice what’s going on around them. They are excited and energized by the success of others. They are inquisitive and constantly looking for keys to incorporate into their lives that will add sizzle and success.
The world is full of great people doing great things. All you’ve got to do is look around and take notice. There’s no shortage of inspiring stories everywhere.
What’s even more impressive is their ability to keep everyone around them motivated and inspired to work in the same way.
10. Listen and Learn
No one knows everything, so smart people are always asking questions.
They know just about anyone they will meet will know something about some subject that could benefit their lives. So they’re always digging, asking questions and for opinions.
They know when you’re talking that magic can happen. So do what they do.
Spend time around people who know the things that you don’t. This way, you will get fresh input and you’ll always keep learning. There is always room for you to grow.
Winners always keep their ears open. They don’t necessarily accept everything they hear as a fact, but it exposes them to more information.
You need to be like a sponge. Soak up as much as you possibly can.
I spend time speaking with the leaders in my company once a week to learn how they think, to learn what they see, and to learn what they are doing that gives them consistently superior results.
11. Associate With Successful People
Who do you spend time with? Do they inspire you or depress you.
The Bible says bad company corrupts good morals.
If you rub shoulders with someone with a positive attitude, that will rub off on you. If you rub shoulders with someone with a negative attitude, that will rub off on you.
The question is, which one of those do you want to rub off on you? If you’re smart, you’ll run from the negatives and find the positives.
The company you keep also says a lot about where you are headed as a person.
If you associate with people who are lazy, you’re going to be lazy. If you associate with people who try to better themselves every day, you’ll pick up on those habits.
Find friends, family, and mentors who have common goals and successful habits. Those are the people you should be associating with each day.
12. Decide to Win
Decide to be an overcomer—so that when life throws you curve balls, you won’t crumble.
Decide to be someone who may occasionally get knocked down but refuses to stay down. In a world full of problems, decide to be part of the solution.In a world full of problems, decide to be part of the solution. Click To Tweet
You have to take charge of what you decide to let come into your mind. You can’t be passive about what you feed your brain.
The media will try to convince you that there’s nothing but doom, gloom, and failure everywhere. If you listen to the media, you wouldn’t get out of the bed in the morning.
You have to be smarter than that. The reason they do that is bad news sells more than good news.
They aren’t just giving you the news—they’re giving you the bad news so that you’ll buy more newspapers and magazines and visit their site more. They are after eyeballs and sales. It’s not their job to pump you up.
Successful leaders realize it’s their job to keep themselves pumped up and positive and to do the same for their team. Successful leaders realize we’ve never lived in a greater environment with more opportunity to make things happen.
The world is full of great ideas, great people, and plenty of money. What is lacking are great leaders to put these three things together to make positive things happen.
Successful leaders are the ones who have decided they will be that person.
The only thing holding back our world is the lack of people willing to accept the task of becoming a successful leader. That can be you.
For those of you who aren’t doing these 12 things yet, it’s not too late to change. Start to make a conscious effort to improve in these areas, and before you know it, they will be second nature to you, too.