Practice – Practice – Practice for Leadership Success

It’s the difference between excellent and average; it separates pros from weekend warriors; it’s the one thing many people don’t like to do, and as a result, won’t do. But for those that choose to do so, it’s the one thing maximizes their chances for success. It’s the discipline of practice.

Behind every successful person in every profession are countless hours of practice. In his best-selling book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about his now famous 10,000 hours to become world-class at anything – a controversial concept to some. Mr. Gladwell later clarified that “natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.”

Apply Deliberate Practice

As an avid golfer, I’ve watched countless PGA events. I’ve seen the pros go to work on the driving range and practice green, not just before their round, but often after they’re done. The drive to be the best is a race without a finish line; and these top professionals engage in what psychology Professor K. Anders Ericsson calls deliberate practice.

However, for many business leaders, finding ‘practice time’ – both for themselves and employees – is given little, if any, thought. How often do leaders take the time to work at becoming better leaders and managers? When are mid-managers or front-line supervisors allowed to repeatedly practice communication skills, time management, project management or other skills required for their jobs? When does the front line staff get a chance to develop skills and knowledge to improve or prepare for their next job? Yes, on the job training is a form of practice. But, not allowing people to acquire and practice their skills in a safe setting is like sending troops into battle without completing boot camp first.

Success comes from repeatedly doing the right things, the right way. It requires deliberate practice with opportunities for feedback from a coach. If you play a recreational sport, you know this. You may make time to practice and even invest in lessons with a teaching pro. Practice is essential to improving at anything. We learn this truth at an early age: without practice, we can never excel or compete with those who are willing to maximize their potential through practice – practice – practice.

Would YOU watch the game?

What if, on the opening day of the National Football League season, some teams had not held training camp, and instead relied on what players remembered from the prior season? What if coaches failed to game plan, and didn’t prepare their players to ensure that knowledge, skills and attitudes were up to the challenge of competing on the football field. Is there any doubt fans of these teams would demand a full refund?

Which would you want to lead?

Imagine a business that doesn’t allow time for employees to practice and improve their skills, knowledge, attitudes and habits. If employees aren’t practicing in a safe setting, they’re practicing on the customers. Over time, performance will decline relative to better skilled competitors. Employees’ attitudes, the core of a company culture, will shift towards the negative; and ‘good enough’ becomes the company norm.

Now imagine the business that sets clear, specific goals, invests in its people, and ensures everyone can improve through deliberate practice. That’s a company on the path to excellence.

Which company would you want to lead? The answer is clear.

Build a Culture of Self-Leadership for Better Results

“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end each of us must work for our own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity.” – Madame Curie

Madame Curie was a pioneering scientist with a passion to help others, and the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize. Her research in radioactivity and invention of the portable X-ray machine literally saved thousands of lives. Madame Curie’s life story is a role model in self-leadership.

Now, imagine working for an organization whose leaders understand the power of self-leadership. Imagine building a culture based on the belief that “We cannot hope to build a better business without improving the individuals who work here.” Think of the impact this can have on revenue, profit, customer loyalty, morale and productivity.

Self-Leaders: Born or Made?

We all possess the ability to lead. Yet too often, the majority of messages people receive, starting early in life and as they grow up, suppress their leadership potential. Then, upon entering the workforce these same people are expected to ‘step-up’, ‘take charge’ and be ‘empowered’ to make decisions or take risks, even though they may lack the confidence, knowledge, skills and attitudes required to be self-leaders.

Culture and Leadership

Senior managers and business owners often fail to see the critical link between self-leadership and business results. They may seek to control employees’ actions and centralize power through top down directives or the overuse of their positions of authority. This compounds organizational problems as top performers flee the toxic environment these methods create.

Effective leaders know it is far better to develop self-leaders – at all levels. They foster a culture of self-leadership with clear guidelines that enable their employees to take action. Great leaders help each person unleash his and her potential. It takes a commitment from the top to develop a workforce of aligned self-leaders. Are you up to the task?

Questions to Consider:

  • Do we have a leadership development plan for our organization? Is the plan documented for each employee and aligned to our strategic goals?
  • Have our people internalized our vision, mission and goals? Do they understand their role in achieving them?
  • Have we created a culture where people can step up and take charge within well-defined guidelines and without fear of retribution or job loss?
  • Are we committed to continuously improving our people, and their ability to lead themselves and others?
  • How do we know we’re getting a return on investment in leadership training and development? Can we measure the impact on revenues, profits, customer loyalty, employee satisfaction, turnover, market share and other key metrics?

Build self-leaders. Build better results.

Why Training Fails and How to Ensure Yours Succeeds

Perhaps you’ve received solicitations for training seminars, webinars and workshops that make promises to “Transform your work force”…. “Unleash sales reps’ potential” …“Share the 20 secrets every rep must know”… and the ever-popular “Overcome objections to close more deals”.

Every business wants more sales and better performers. That’s why business owners often attend and/or send their people to seminars and webinars that promise immediate results. Each year, companies spend anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars per employee for the quick dip in the training pool – hoping this time will be different.

Then, a few short weeks later, the owner realizes what changed – NOTHING. No change in behavior; no change in skills, knowledge or attitudes; no change in business results.

This is not to say one-time workshops have no value. Many contain useful information and may provide opportunities to practice techniques. But whether it’s the one-hour webinar or an all-day training event, the results are almost always short lived. As Dr. Scott Geller of Virginia Tech notes, “training is doing a behavior and getting feedback” and “online training is an oxymoron.”

In all day training, problems become more pronounced as facilitators cover multiple topics in a condensed schedule. By mid-afternoon, meeting fatigue and the distractions prevalent in the smart phone era further shrink attention spans. And when participants return to work, they often file away the training materials, never to see them again.

Why this traditional approach fails to deliver on the promise

Research shows that a one-time exposure to information results in people forgetting 95% of the content just two weeks later! This fact, combined with a lack of focus on the key factors required to learn and truly change, are the primary reasons why traditional training often fails. And most training companies know it; which is why they often use these forums to promote more training, their books, DVDs, and follow-on services.

What does work and why?

We became who we are over time. People learn from repeated exposure to ideas and information, reinforced by habit and improved with practice. And one size doesn’t fit all. For example, new sales reps are just forming their work habits. Experienced sales people have ingrained habits – including a few bad ones. They may need to ‘unlearn what they have learned’ as Yoda counseled Luke Skywalker. Both types of sales reps need a sales development process tailored to their needs.

Maximize your return on training investment (ROTI).

When deciding how to invest in training and professional development, consider the following:

  1. Invest in a development process, not training events. A professional development process allows people to internalize, develop and apply knowledge and skills, and receive timely feedback.
  2. Make certain the process teaches people what they need to know based on the business’ needs and culture, not a ‘one-size fits all’ seminar. Tailor or customize content as needed.
  3. Give your people time to learn and internalize ideas and information; and time to form new habits. Professional development is more effective when delivered via multiple, shorter sessions over time (weekly or semi-weekly). Proven methods such as spaced repetition learning helps people retain information and the facilitator can apply a variety of teaching methods.
  4. Athletes and musicians do it. So should your people. Allow people time to practice and receive candid feedback from an internal coach.
  5. Transform your managers into coaches. If internal resources are limited, consider investing in a part-time, external coach.
  6. Understand the role that individuals’ attitudes play in determining success. Your professional development process should teach people how to replace negative, underlying attitudes with new ones that stop self-defeating subconscious thoughts. For example, many sales people fail because they subconsciously fear rejection; avoid networking and public speaking and other activities required for success in sales. Help them overcome these self-imposed barriers.
  7. Align training goals with business goals. Focus on results and create a plan to achieve them.

Finally, think of the development process as an investment and measure the return. Your upfront investment may be a bit more than that one-time webinar or workshop, but the pay back will be significantly greater with positive, lasting results.

Receive a Personal Sales Profile Self-Assessment & Complimentary Needs Assessment. Contact or call (585) 303-9215.

Beyond ‘time management’. Become a Time Leader.

“Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.”
Peter F. Drucker

Whenever I ask business owners and managers to describe their professional and personal challenges, time management is almost always near the top of the list; for themselves and people who work for them. Many also say “I wish I had more time in my day.”

The ‘time management’ dilemma:

Have you ever noticed that some people take on extra work, are active in their communities, and still have time for family and friends? They accomplish what they set out to do and make it look effortless while others struggle just to complete daily work tasks.

There is no shortage of books, systems and technologies promising to help. Yet, despite calendars, smart phones, meeting reminders and other tools, many people continue to run late for appointments, miss deadlines, and fail to achieve balance between their work and personal lives.

Management skill or Leadership quality?

And, when I ask participants in my leadership development programs to list the qualities of an ‘ideal’ leader, rarely do they include time management. Perhaps it is because managing time is perceived to be a skill. I believe the ability to manage time and prioritize tasks is also a quality, rooted in the values that form leaders’ attitudes and habits. People who make time work for them and focus on what’s important become time leaders.

For example, President Dwight Eisenhower, American hero and the leader who led the Allied forces to victory in World War II, understood the importance of managing time and priorities. He developed a simple technique that became known as the Eisenhower Box. Ike segmented tasks into four categories based on their importance and urgency. Like Ike, time leaders prioritize and invest their time.

Time leaders also respect others’ time and priorities. When a person in a position of authority is considerate of others’ time, they earn power, gain respect and build loyalty. Actions can be as simple as arriving five minutes early for appointments, starting and ending meetings on time, and setting realistic project deadlines.

Questions to consider:

• How do you use your time? Is time something you spend, like cash at the mall? Or do you invest your time on the things that truly matter?
• Do you plan and organize your calendar to maximize time?
• What habits have you developed to do more with the time you have? Do you prioritize work and follow a repeatable, effective process to meet deadlines?

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a time leader, contact me. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.

Why Strategic Planning Is Important–For Every Business

Business leader working his plans“We don’t have time for planning. Our industry changes so fast, by the time we created a plan, it would be out of date.”

I’ve heard this statement—and its variations—numerous times. Most often, it’s said by business owners who find themselves running in place or firefighting daily issues instead of creating opportunities for success. They’ve failed to heed the timeless advice of Alan Lakein that “failing to plan is planning to fail.”

I teach marketing and entrepreneurship to college students and invite business leaders and entrepreneurs as guest speakers to share their stories. Some of my guests tell the students they did not have a strategic plan when they started out, but all admit that had they done so, their success would have come sooner. They could have avoided costly failures along the way.

Yes, circumstances often change a plan before the ink is dry. The secret to strategic planning is the thinking you and your team are led to do while developing it. The discussions in which you hash out where your company is headed—and where it’s not—lay the foundation for the decisions you have to make every day. Planning creates a common ground of shared understanding that allows people to stay in sync even when in the middle of storm.

That’s what makes creating a plan—working on your business—worth the time taken away from working in your business. Many issues are more easily solved when you look at what’s going on in the forest versus paying attention solely to what’s going on around your particular tree.

Some questions to think about:

  • What is your plan for achieving business success? Is it written down or in your head?
  • How aligned are the goals you’ve set for your company with your employees’ goals at every level?
  • What would it mean to you personally if everyone in your organization were able to see the ‘big picture’ and know how they directly impact business results?

Want to talk to someone about your answers? Contact me, and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.