Ever wonder what life was like before we had gazillions of self-help books and blogs to tell us which habits and routines will make us more effective, productive, liked, even happy? How we should and shouldn’t talk, behave, work, and live?

We had role models to look up to – real leaders guided by principles of truth, integrity, and personal accountability.

We had real relationships with actual human mentors to help guide us when we faced tough dilemmas.

We thought for ourselves, trusted our instincts, and sought to be the best version of ourselves we could be.

That’s what life was like. And I’m pretty sure that we were more effective, productive, liked, and yes, even happy.

Look, I’m not going to sit here and say that Stephen Covey’s seminal book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is a complete waste of time and money. After all, he has millions of fans and paying customers. I may not be one of them, but then, that’s just me.

I’ve always worked hard to be my genuine self: to do things my own way and let the naysayers be damned. If folks want to follow, that’s their business, but I certainly wouldn’t encourage it. One of me is more than enough for this world, thank you very much.

Considering that all the real entrepreneurs and business leaders I’ve known have also had their own way of doing things, I thought I’d pay tribute to their genre with a list of my own. If you read them as sort of anti-habits, you’re reading them right. With all due respect to Covey’s legacy, I give you …

The 7 Habits of Real Leaders

1. Ignore lists of habits

Starting with this one. And above all, don’t read self-help-style business books and blogs. They’ll suck your brain dry, one neuron at a time. Someone recently told me that Virgin’s Richard Branson doesn’t read business books. I have no idea if that’s true, but I don’t, and that’s been a winning formula.

2. Be the genuine you

In a world full of fakes and phonies, virtual personas and avatars, profiles, bios, and about pages that bear little resemblance to reality, authenticity is quickly becoming an endangered quality. But here’s the thing. If you have the confidence and courage to just be you, instead of the person you or anyone else thinks you should be, that alone distinguishes you from all the digital clones.

3. Focus on what matters

Our gadget-addicted world is making us chronically distracted, detached, and disengaged. Which is ironic, since everyone thinks they’re connecting when they’re really just vying for attention and feeding their bottomless pit of an ego with instant gratification. Instead, do only what matters. That will instantly make you way more effective than the content-crazy masses.

4. Seek your own path

Nothing is more ludicrous than the notion that a book, a seminar, or a coach can guide you to your one true path to become the great whatever you’re destined to be. What a load of nonsense. The only true sources of wisdom, self-knowledge, and perspective are experiencing the real world and listening quietly to your inner world.

5. Question the status quo

Every great CEO I’ve known had no patience for the status quo. Wildly successful entrepreneurs create company cultures in their own image, like Mark Zuckerberg’s “The Hacker Way,” Jeff Bezos’s “Purposeful Darwinism,” and John Mackey’s “Conscious Capitalism.” And “Think Different” perfectly describes the essence of Steve Jobs and Apple.

6. Be excellent

Yes, that little pearl of wisdom comes from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Keanu Reeves’ carefree pre-Matrix days. What does it mean? Whatever you love doing, go for it. Whatever you’re good at, work to be great at it. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt to “be excellent to each other,” either.

7. Energize 

No, not like in Star Trek, at least not until Elon Musk invents a transporter teleportation machine to take us to Mars. I’m talking about the unique ability to engage and empower others to rise above themselves and together accomplish what mere mortals say can’t be done. That’s the essence of true leadership.

As I say in my book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur: Leaders lead. Followers follow. You can’t do both. The choice is yours.

A version of this first appeared on entrepreneur.com.

  • LeviMeow

    Ironically this is a great list!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (attempted joke) I love your thinking!!!

  • Dirk Duden

    Signed up to receive your posts without having to scroll thru endless Linkedin stuff. Reading your book & blog does the job for me and my business. Going for a run in all that time saved! Your presence online is the greatest and best irony of all. OK, I have to get off 🙂