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.