I discovered a new icebreaker the other day that allows participants to understand perspective a bit better. I intend to use it more frequently with audiences because it takes only a minute or less and there are no props involved. Simple is always better.
It got me thinking about how we, in our day-to-day blurry world, can see things so differently from time-to-time. Then, as thoughts tend to do (at least mine), I randomly recalled the day I got glasses for the first time.
I was probably 11 or 12 years old and learned that because of all the reading I did, my eyesight was less than perfect.
You know how we (okay, maybe it’s just me again) somehow take a snapshot of various situations in our life. Well, for some strange reason I can remember vividly the ride home from the optometrist’s office. Go figure!
I was in the backseat of our red and white ’55 Buick marveling at my new world. I remember rolling down the window (yes, rolling) and being able to see things much more clearly.
Until the doctor visit, I didn’t know I was seeing the world through a foggy haze. Once I donned the new Clark Kent specs…bingo…there were road signs I could read, leaves on trees instead of splotches and grey specks of hair on the back of my Dad’s head. (He wasn’t pleased with that improvement.)
Wouldn’t it be nice if every once in a while we could go “in” for a perspective check? Perhaps we would look through a perspective scope of sorts and someone would ask “is this better or this one?” How about 3? Is it better than 5?
Unfortunately, for many of us, changing our perspective or perception of things doesn’t appear to quite work that way. Most “experts” tell us that how we see the world seems to be a sum total of our family upbringing, present environment, daily interactions and many other life shapers. Education and our desire to continue learning about the world and ourselves might fit that mold as well.
In short and inclusive of the above, I think our perspective is derived from what we focus on. And what we focus on is a clear contributor to our behavior. Moreover, you are the only one who can go “in” and do the check.
That’s where my version of real leadership comes in. Leadership is not a title or position, it’s about the choices we make in each and every moment of the day. It can be as simple as how we respond to a success or a slight. So, if your perspective is that the world is ugly and bad, that’s what you will see. There will be plenty of evidence.
When our son Nicholas, now a sophomore at UC Davis, was being recruited to play collegiate tennis, my wife, Tae, and I had the chance to talk with quite a few men's tennis coaches.One of them was Glenn Michibata, head coach at Princeton University.In the course of our conversation with Glenn, one of the questions we asked him was: "How much time do your players practice every day?"Glenn responded, "I tell them they need to practice two hours every day if they want to stay the same; more if they want to get better." His comment has stuck with me ever since. It has become a mantra when I work with leaders on their own practice routines.
Glenn's experience taught him that becoming the best player took more than an annual weekend retreat, more than a monthly coaching session, more than a weekly tune-up, and more than a brief daily reflection on what it takes to excel. He had learned that it requires hours a day of practice. But it's not any kind of practice that works. "To people who have never reached a national or international level of competition, it may appear that excellence is simply the result of practicing daily for years or even decades," write K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely, leading researchers in the field of human performance. "However, living in a cave does not make you a geologist. Not all practice makes perfect. You need a particular kind of practice—deliberate practice—to develop expertise."
Ericsson and his colleagues aren't just talking here about athletes or performing artists. Their research has examined "…top performance in a wide variety of domains: surgery, acting, chess, writing, computer programming, ballet, music, aviation, firefighting, and many others."I think it's about time that we apply the findings from their research about deliberate practice to the development of leaders.
And just what is deliberate practice? Using the key elements Geoff Colvin describes it in his new book, Talent Is Overrated — a book I referenced in a recent blog in LeaderTalk — here is what it looks like. (The editorial comments are mine!)
Deliberate practice is designed specifically to improve performance. Going to the driving range and hitting a bucket of balls is definitely not deliberate practice. It may be fun, and you may get a bit better, but it's not the route to becoming the best you can be. The key word here is "designed," meaning there is a methodology and there is a very clear goal. More often than not a coach or teacher selects the goal and the method.
It can be repeated a lot. Engaging in a designed learning experience just once or twice doesn't cut it. It has to be done over and over and over again until it's automatic. That takes hours of repetition. The norm is about two hours of practice per day every day! Anders Ericsson also adds that during repetition you need to pay as much attention to the methodology as to the goal. Sloppy execution is not acceptable to top performers.
Feedback on results is continuously available. Every learner needs feedback.It's the only way you know whether or not you're getting close to your goal and whether or not you're executing properly.While there may come a time when you're accomplished enough to assess your own performance, you'll need a coach, mentor or some other third party to help you analyze how you did. "The development of expertise," writes Anders Ericsson and colleagues, "requires coaches who are capable of giving constructive, even painful, feedback. Real experts are extremely motivated students who seek out such feedback."
Deliberate practice is highly demanding mentally. It requires intense concentration and focus. Even when the type of activity requires intense physical effort – as in athletic sports – the limiting factor is often more mental than physical.It seems that we are more likely to tire from mental strain than physical strain. That's why deliberate practice sessions are often only about two to three hours.
It isn't much fun. While we should absolutely love what we do, deliberate practice is not designed to be fun. What keeps the top performers going during the often-grueling practice sessions is not the fun that they are having, but the knowledge that they are improving and getting closer to their dream of superior performance.
And there are a couple other critical elements that emerge from the research:
During deliberate practice experts work on their weaknesses and not just on their strengths.These days we hear a lot how we should ignore our weaknesses or find someone else who's good at what we aren't. That message is not consistent with what those who study expertise have found. To quote Anders Ericsson: "Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become." We'll have to rethink our interpretation of what it means to lead from our strengths.
It helps to have support. Studies of top performers strongly suggest that you have to have a supportive environment in order to develop expertise. A supportive family is very common in the stories of world-class performers. Coaches, mentors, and teachers, while tough and demanding, are also important sources of support.
It helps to start young.The world's top performers more than likely started when they were children. Because it takes years of continuous deliberate practice to become world-class, it makes sense that if you want to make the Olympics at eighteen you have to start when you are six.That doesn't mean we are doomed to being average if we don't start until we are in our twenties. But it does mean that we can't expect to perform at an expert level until we're in our thirties, assuming we practice every day. It takes practice, and practice takes time.
All of this great research is well and good, but how can we put it into practice at work? How can we each use these guidelines to become better leaders? After all, if you're like me, you don't have two extra hours a day, every day, to add deliberate practice into our already overloaded schedules. Precisely. That's why we have to learn to turn our workplaces into practice fields and to develop practice routines in which we can engage during the normal eight to twelve hours we're at work.Next week I'll offer some tips on how you can do that.I also want to hear from you. What are you doing to incorporate deliberate practice into your leadership agenda?
Trustworthiness is a critical attribute of a great leader. Understanding the nature of trust is essential to succesfully emboding trust. This is a great discussion to help us dig into some of the nuances.
Leadership is about aligning people. It is about understanding those who you are charged to lead, and unifying them around common values. Some leaders are making the mistake of assuming that because their team members are categorized in a certain generation that they can circumvent the process of truly understanding their employees for who they really are. Regardless of the generational makeup of your team, what matters most is your teams values, not their generational profiles. While their generational profile might be an indication of their values, there is not always a one-to-one coorelation. It goes without saying that we live in a complex world. Each individual comes from a unique and varied background, regardless of when in time they were born. Positioning individuals in generational categories, while it can offer some insight into why individuals are showing up to work the way they are. There is a great danger in assuming that we will all show-up to work based on our generational profile. I am willing to bet if we made less assumptions about the people we work with and make some attempt to understand them for who they really are, the job of aligning our team with shared values would be much easier. Remeber that when working with people, "fast is slow" and "slow is fast."
The Leadership Challenge Forum 2009 program committee seeks proposals for interactive and engaging sessions within the following categories: Different Places/Different Approaches, Apply and Practice, and Dialogue and Connect. Please read the proposal submission guidelines or further information on participation.
Colvin's new book actually grew out of an assignment at
Fortune. A couple years ago he was asked to contribute a piece for a special
issue on great performance in business. "The resulting article,"
according to Colvin, "provoked a more intense response than anything else
I've written."It is
meticulously written, and the assertions made in the book are based on rigorous
scientific research. The principal researcher who informs many of the findings
discussed in the book is Professor K. Anders Ericsson, Conradi Eminent Scholar
at Florida State University. Ericsson and his colleagues have been conducting
study after study on expert performance for over thirty years, and their work
may just revolutionize how leaders are developed in the future. At least, I
Colvin's provocative title neatly summarizes the premise of
his book. Here are a few of the key messages from Talent Is Overrated:
gifts and talents, if they exist at all, aren't what we think they are and
they are not enough to explain world-class performance in chess, music,
ballet, medicine, golf, business, or any other endeavor.
high IQs also don't characterize the great performers. Sometimes they champions have higher than average intelligence,
but in many instances they are just average.
of experience don't necessarily make someone a high-performer, let alone
the greatest performer. And, as startling as it might sound, sometimes
more years of experience can mean poorer performance compared to those
newly graduated in a specialty.
natural talent, high IQ, and even years of experience don't explain
greatness, then what does? The factor that best explains great performers
is what the researchers call "deliberate practice."
Colvin admits that "Deliberate practice is a large concept, and to say that
it explains everything would be simplistic and reductive." Therefore, if we are
going to become experts in anything, it's essential that we understand
what deliberate practice is and what it isn't. What most of us do when we
"practice," it turns out, often does not lead to great
performance at all, and it may just contribute to being mediocre and could
even make us worse.
Colvin does a superb job of providing us with insights into
what deliberate practice is, what it isn't, and how it works.He also applies the concepts to our
personal lives, our organizations, and to innovation. In blogs over the next
couple weeks, I'll share with you some of the key components of deliberate
practice and propose ways in which we can apply these concepts to the
development of leaders. In the meantime, if you'd like to join me in the
dialogue, I urge you to read Talent Is Overrated.I'm certain it will influence how you think about what you
can do to become a better leader and what you can do to develop those with whom
you work. If you aspire to world-class performance, this will be time well