22 Healthy Leadership Habits for 2020

Some habits that will give you more white space and peace of mind

With the holidays approaching, it’s easy to let things slip. A cookie here, a late weeknight there. That extra shot of bourbon over dinner. Before you know it, ten pounds and ten percent more body fat surreptitiously appear. 

Several of my clients have asked about my healthy leadership habits. I’ve accumulated a few over the past decade. And this is a decade that has been tumultuous for me. Without healthy leadership habits, I simply don’t know how I would have transitioned to a new home and adapted to living on my own for the first time in 30 years. 

I sincerely hope you find solace and an extra shot of productivity from my list. 


  1. Organize your day the PRIOR evening. Make a to do list with 3 items maximum.
  2. Get up early when things are quiet and peaceful.
  3. Do not check email until you complete your morning rituals. You might take time to journal. Read something that inspires you. Set your daily intentions. Make time to exercise and get your heart rate moving. Find and stick to rituals that give you joy.
  4. Eat well-balanced snacks and meals at regular intervals. Scientists report that leafy green vegetables and berries, for example, help to prevent cognitive decline and dementia.
  5. Make Sunday your “fun cooking” day. This offers several benefits: it helps you save money that you can spend on travel, date night, or new hobbies. You will save loads of time negotiating dinner time. You will eat healthier than dining out. And you will KNOW what ingredients are in your food.
  6. Exercise to restore energy. 10 minute walks around the office building can work too. NO excuses.
  7. Combine your personal and professional schedules. Run errands on your way back from a meeting. Add a few days of R&R to your business travel.
  8. Vent it, then forget it. If you are allowing things to fester, you are the person who is suffering. This can be a difficult conversation with family or a team member.
  9. Set up auto-pay for every bill. If you need to pay bills manually or review your family budget, pick a day and do it with a nice cup of tea or glass of wine beside you. Play your favorite music.
  10. Be a person of interest. Look for lessons that you can apply in other areas of your life.

    BONUS: Play music whenever you can. Ask younger people what’s on their playlist. It soothes the soul during these challenging times.
Photo by Toomas Tartes on Unsplash


  1. Ensure every important initiative is grounded in the investment thesis, which we learned from Constance Dierickx, co-author of The Merger Mindset:
    • What are you trying to achieve?
    • Who are all the constituents that need attention?
    • What is your message for employees, customers and other constituents?
    • What do you want to make sure does NOT happen? (for example, if you are launching a new go to market strategy, you might need to be certain that a key supplier relationship remains intact).
    • What do employees need to do in order for that investment to be realized? This thesis must be clear, concise, memorable and valuable.
  2. Be sure your top 3 priorities are completed by the end of the day.
  3. Design your day to end meetings by 3 pm. Nothing good can come from even more meetings. There is a reason that error rates in emergency rooms and medical practices rise precipitously in the afternoons. Dan Pink describes this in detail in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
  4. Follow the TWO TOUCH and TWO WEEK rule to resolve items in your inbox. After that, those “to do” items become stale and drain your psychic energy.
  5. For larger initiatives, aim for 30-60 day deliverables. One of our clients owns a $100M marketing budget. To ensure stakeholder buy-in to their digital transformation initiative, they prevent team members from presenting PowerPoint status updates. The project lead actually demonstrates the product – even when it is not yet ready for prime time.
  6. Create “slush time” between meetings. Back to back meetings are unnecessary unless you are facing a crisis or very tight deadline. This gives you time to set your intentions for the next meeting and reflect/take notes from the prior meeting.
  7. Use the BEST pragmatic technology you can find: Evernote, Hotel Tonight, Lyft, Dark Sky, Flight Tracker, and OpenTable are tools I could not live without. They are huge time savers.
  8. Train all of your subcontractors on how you operate. This includes how you practice your company values, bill payment policies (electronic versus paper checks), voicemail and email response times, and meeting etiquette.
  9. Practice being succinct. If needed, pause and write down your key question or message! Use 15 words or less. Embrace silence. It can be your friend.
  10. Focus on process, not content. Are you being rewarded to be an expert in your offerings, or in the planning and execution models to achieve the organization’s goals? I believe that the latter will make you more marketable and valuable in the long term (unless you are a systems engineer or product developer).
  11. Publicly celebrate and reward people for projects and programs that you have delayed, dropped or delegated. Some people still believe that the more busy they are, the more important they are. This is a myth. It’s okay to kill non-strategic programs.
  12. Refuse to attend meetings that have no agenda or action plans assigned. Challenge the organizers to cut the meeting duration by 50%.

If you could select just one new habit for 2020, which one would it be? And how might your life improve with just a little more white space? 

If you are unsure, just imagine this: If you can save 30 minutes a day, that translates into 23 more hours a year!

Copyright 2019, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved. 

Comments open: True

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