Just like “abracadabra,” “habit” is a magic word. And, like magic, habits have transformational powers that can build us up, or take us down.

Vistage Chair and speaker Gary Lockwood says that habits can be a person’s “constant companion,” “greatest helper,” and “heaviest burden,” all at the same time.

Take a minute to think about that. We know that habits are hard to break. We all know people that struggle with destructive behaviors such as smoking, overdrinking and overeating. On the flipside, taking positive patterns of behavior and making them into habits can be very difficult to achieve.

“Magic Word Habit”

You may know me. I’m your constant companion, I’m your greatest helper, I’m your heaviest burden. I will push you onward, or drag you down to failure. I am at your command.

Half the tasks you do can be turned over to me. I am able to do them quickly, and I am able to do them the same every time. I’m easily managed… all you have to do is be firm with me.

Show me exactly how you want it done and, after a few lessons, I’ll do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great men and women, and of course, the servant of all failures as well.

I’ve made all the great individuals who have ever been great, and I’ve made all the losers too. I work with the precision of a computer and the intelligence of a human being. You may run me for a profit, or you may run me for ruin, it makes no difference to me.

Take me, be easy with me, and I will destroy you.

Be firm with me and I will put the word at your feet.

Who am I? I am HABIT.

Taking A Look In The Mirror

For me, a habit that I struggle to solidify and could classify as a “heaviest burden” would be commitment to a consistent workout routine. On the other hand, the habits that have become my “greatest helper” include making sure to have a full physical every year, regularly visiting the dentist, and following a good regiment of vitamins and supplements.

Habits are very much a representation of values. This applies to both individuals and corporations equally. For leaders, the challenge is to identify and inspire the habits and behaviors throughout an organization that translate into positive outcomes.

Author David Friedman has written at length on this subject. According to Friedman, while all companies talk about values, most companies struggle with what they are and how to apply them. He maintains that the ultimate measure of values is what people do.

The specific term that Friedman uses to define corporate value systems is “fundamentals.” These serve as the blueprint for the behaviors and standards to which a company and its employees aspire. At Johnson & Johnson, this blueprint is known as the “The Credo.” At Ritz-Carlton, it is referred to as the “The Basics.”

Regardless of the terminology used, it is not enough for a company to simply write its value system on the wall, though it may be a good starting point. What is further required is actively translating a company’s value statement into behaviors that become habitual throughout the organization. Friedman takes this concept one step further by calling for habits to become rituals. In doing so, he suggests that optimal behaviors should be as natural to an organization as other rituals that we celebrate as a society. In the way that holidays are cultural rituals, Friedman sees values as being important corporate rituals that, in an ideal world, never cease to exist.

Creating an environment where behaviors become rituals is where leadership comes into play. Leaders must inspire their organizations to consistently – and ritualistically – engage in optimal behavior. Failure to do so sets the stage for the formations of bad habits that soon become a company’s “heaviest burden.” And… we know all too well, habits are very hard to break.