As teenagers, my parents forced us to talk about what we learned that day at dinner (the horror). Also as teenagers, we had bad speaking habits. One of them was the word “like.” Like was a word that came before, during, and after sentences to fill the dead space. It had no reason to be there. We just put it there as a bad habit.

“Like, science was boring. Like, we got to play floor hockey in gym, so that was cool. Like. Yeah.”

Good old-fashioned teenager talk.

The problem was my father was a professional speaker. Listening to us talk like that at dinner helped him pick up this habit himself which caused a bit of a stir. Can’t have the professional speaker sounding like a stupid teenager. It’s bad for the revenue model.

Because he was a pro, my Dad could stop it through sheer mind and will. He decided to help us stop the habit as well for our good (but most likely for his good).

There is a bunch of trendy articles and books out there currently about habits.

“Wake up early and crush it!”

“How to schedule your calendar to live your ultimate awesome you!”

“How to floss your teeth … everyday!”

Those are good habits to build. Yet, I think they are missing something when it comes to leadership and behaviors.

Imagine you want to add something leadershippy  (it’s a word … I swear) to your toolkit like give people positive feedback, praising in public, be the last person to talk at meetings, or keep the conversation at a strategic level and not get pulled into the weeds.

Those aren’t black and white “just floss one tooth and then you’ll want to floss them all! New habit achieved!”

Back to the teenage wordsmithing of “Like.”

When we “liked” all over our sentences we had a habit. In order to change our speech pattern behavior we had to notice when we did the unwanted thing and then replace it with what we did want.

The Noticing Stages

NOTE: Feel free to insert something you’d like to start/stop/delete in a leadership capacity when I use the term “Like.” Can’t think of one? I’d suggest being the last person to talk in meetings where your opinion stops the conversation cold. That’s a hard one for every leader.

Way Too Late: Reactive
In this first stage, you are just becoming aware of the problem or challenge. It’s not until much later that you remember or are told that you said “Like.” It’s too late to do anything about it but at least you are aware of the situation. This stage usually involves an accountability partner to help you see what you can’t. Yes, you need a truth bomber or someone who knows how to stab you in the front.

Better, but it’s still too late: Quick Reactive
You are now aware of the challenge and can catch yourself but not until AFTER the damage is done. This is where the hard work comes in. You say “Like” then immediately catch yourself and try to say the sentence again. It’s hard and you may even say “like” three more times. Perhaps you porky pig it and say different words that mean the same thing. Progress is made, but you still have work to do.

This is you walking into a meeting to be the “listener” and five minutes in you are talking to a bunch of nodding heads. It’s too late, so you stop and try to fade back into listening mode.

Before it leaves your mouth/brain/office: Proactive
You finally are starting to win. Right before you say the word “like” you stop yourself and your brain tries really hard to jump over it to get to the next word. You win more often than you lose.

Now you are listening in two out of three meetings and gaining momentum.

Old habit gone – new habit acquired: The new you!
It’s time to pull those articles out because you’re crushing it! Yeah buddy!

Habits acquired over time come from repetition and familiarity. Until you notice the situation, opportunity, people, and action or inaction then it’s just a to-do item on a checklist.

What do you want to notice? Who needs to help you through stage one?

Dan Cooper
Post by Dan Cooper
March 15, 2019
Dan Cooper co-founded ej4, a video-based online training company, in 2003, and was its CEO until selling in 2012. During his time with ej4, he grew the company from a startup to a nationally-recognized firm, serving clients including Pepsi-Cola, Dr. Pepper Snapple, Honeywell, Monsanto and Syngenta. Channel partners included SAP and Oracle. As of the 2012, ej4 was serving 1,000+ customers, delivering millions of program views, was highly profitable and debt-free. Today, he is the CEO of Acumen, a mastermind community platform built for CEOs and Owners of strong and growing companies. He and his wife, Ali, have three children and attend Cure of Ars church in Leawood, KS. Dan enjoys running, all things soccer — coaching, playing and watching —and burning all types of meat on the backyard barbecue grill.