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The Daily Habits that Give New Jersey Executives an Edge

The Edge for February

Peter Woolley

The most successful and strong leaders share common traits: the ability to keep their eye on the ball; the talent to motivate themselves and those around them; and the skill to think clearly under pressure. There are also more modest, but essential, ingredients to success. Here are quotes from five successful executives who credit simple, daily habits for helping them get a leg up in business and life:


Take Email Slow; Eat Dinner with Family; Play Beautiful Music

I avoid the temptation to respond immediately to email. First, it’s better to reserve time for email once or twice a day, rather than to be continuously available to it and distracted by it. Second, it’s better to draft a response and let it sit in the draft folder overnight and then refine or correct it the next day, than to respond hastily and without review. Third, I pretend that everyone in the organization is going to read the email.

Peter Woolley

I eat dinner with my family every evening possible. We have moved dinner to a more fashionable “European” time to accommodate this. We will make dinner together beginning at 7 or 8 and sit down all together. This, it turns out, is even possible with teenagers. They adjust, and they like the opportunity to say something about their day and to offer their opinion on current events.

I play piano once each week in a jazz quintet. Playing music in a group requires me to a) listen carefully to all the other players and b) pay close attention to playing. These two things together take 100 percent of my thinking, leaving nothing left over for worrying, brooding, or anxiousness. At the end of a session, my brain is purged and as good as new. I can’t remember, until the next morning, what it was I was worrying about!

- Peter J. Woolley, Ph.D., Provost, Florham Campus and Senior VP for Government Affairs, of Fairleigh Dickinson University


Read Every Day, and Leverage It

When I was a law student working as a summer associate, one of the partners in the firm where I was working advised our group that it was very important to read regularly. He focused on the need to keep up on developments in the law; but as I have realized that it is more important than that. I now begin everyday by reading.

My first reading of the day is the news online. As I click through articles I will often email links to news stories to colleagues, clients and family members. This is a great way to let folks know that you are thinking about them and their interests. Keeping up on the details of the news also helps me engage in conversation at marketing events or around the lunch table.

Dennis ToftOnce I get to the office, I will read the case law updates, the lists of new lawsuits that have been filed and other legal analyses. I will consider if any of the reported developments impact pending matters, or if they would be of particular interest to the industries in which my clients operate. As with news stories I often email copies of what I read to co-workers and clients. I find that clients appreciate the updates.

At home in the evening I turn to pleasure reading. This can range from sports magazines to biographies to the latest novel. This helps me relax and clear my mind as I head off to sleep.

So I am sharing the advice I received as a law student — keep up on your reading and use it to your advantage.

- Dennis M. Toft, member and co-chair of the environmental law group at Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC


William RuckertSpeak and Act Clearly

One thing that comes to mind for me professionally and in things I do outside my job is an acronym taught to me from a college professor, Father James Donohoe. It was a public speaking course the abbreviation was SLUP as in Slow, Loud, Upright and Prepared. I learned that phrase over 35 years ago and it applies to so many things in your daily life. It has been an excellent lesson for handling your actions both spoken and not spoken, and I’ve passed it on to many colleagues over the years.

-William Ruckert, Senior Vice President, of Provident Bank


Wake up with a Workout

Bill HagamanOn any given day, there are easily 50 important things I need to be doing as managing partner of a large public accounting firm. However, before I jump feet first into a day full of meetings, phone calls and strategy sessions, I have committed to the effort of waking up around 4:30 a.m. to fit in some time for physical exercise. Depending on the day – and the weather - I may run, walk, use an elliptical or lift weights. It’s the best thing I can do to start my day, benefitting me not only with good physical health, but also good mental health. During this hour or so of exercise, I am able to run through the checklist in my mind, preparing for the busy day ahead. Afterwards, I also feel a sense of accomplishment, that I did something productive and positive. And this helps motivate me every morning to get out of bed and get moving. I highly recommend it as a best practice for anyone. You’ll be a better person for it.

-Bill Hagaman, Managing Partner & CEO, of WithumSmith+Brown, PC


Use Your Imagination

Aldonna Ambler

Take advantage of that zone between sleep and awake by using visualization techniques to help solve business problems.

Imagine a challenge - the rejection of a recent sales pitch or a complex negotiation - as a tall, wide brick wall. Then imagine various ways you and your team can get to the other side of the wall. 

  • You could bore a hole in the wall and peer through to the other side.
  • You could spread out and climb over the wall as a group.
  • You could dig a tunnel and go under the wall.
  • You could get a boost from a strong friend to lift you over the wall.
  • Someone could pull you over from the other side.
  • You could jump on a trampoline and bounce over the wall.

I have seen, for example, when executives conclude that their business needs to do a joint venture based on visualizing both groups going over the WALL together.

Who knows? You may become more open to obtaining growth financing if you envisioned being pulled over from the other side.

-Aldonna Ambler, President, Ambler Growth Strategy Consultants

Lessons in Leadership - Get the wrong people off the bus