Bad habits can be hard to break, and for business leaders who have them, they can be deal-breakers.

In a survey by Leadership IQ, an online training firm, the primary reasons CEOs were fired – mismanaging change, ignoring customers, tolerating low performers, and not enough action – were often related to unproductive habits.

“Although leaders who display these behaviors generally know what to do, and how to do it, their unproductive habits render them unable to get things done – with dire consequences,” says Mark Green, a speaker, coach to CEOs and author of Activators: A CEO’s Guide to Clearer Thinking and Getting Things Done ( “The most common unproductive leadership habits include avoiding decisions and conflict, maintaining comfort-zone networks, needing to be liked, neglecting to listen enough – and they are hard to break.”

But Green says they can be broken and suggests replacing them with foundational habits that make leaders successful. He lists six of them here.

  • Capitalize on luck. This is a habit of forward-moving thinking in response to both good- and bad-luck events. Green says bad luck, such as the extended absence of a key employee, affords an opportunity for the leader to empower others by challenging them to learn, grow and contribute in new ways. “Whatever the circumstances, leaders rapidly come to understand the value of generating return on luck,” Green says. “Everyone wins.”
  • Be grateful. “When you appreciate and value what you have, you gain a clearer perspective,” Green says. “A daily meeting ritual of appreciation creates space for each executive to share what they appreciate most, and it opens up the room to clearer thinking and increased collaboration.”
  • Give – within limits. Research shows there are many advantages to being a giver, but striking a balance is important to remain productive. “Sharing information and resources cultivates an abundance mindset, bringing benefits that both the company and the leader can reap,” Green says. “But there are limits; if you’re giving away too much time and too many resources, you won’t be able to accomplish your own objectives. Give, but know when to say no.”
  • When problems arise, focus on process – not people. “When something goes wrong, a common approach is to find fault with the people involved,” Green says. “But bad or poorly communicated processes can make even the most talented, dedicated staff look terrible. Question processes and communication first, before you explore the intentions, character or capabilities of those involved. Research shows that believing in your people pays off.”
  • Have high expectations of others. Leaders who set the bar high and then give their teams latitude to execute reap more benefits than those who simply tell their teams what to do,” Green says. “Those whose habits include valuing autonomy and individual responsibility can build something great over time. High expectations and empowerment are key.” 
  • Maintain intentional focus. “Countless research studies have exposed excessive multi-tasking as ineffective,” Green says. “To make real progress, hold a small number of very important things in your mind and let go of the rest.  Ruthless prioritization and focus in execution will set you free.”

“With our thoughts, we make our world,” Green says. “Check your beliefs about your leadership habits, choose just one or two to change, enlist others to support your efforts, then get to it.”