There are a few things that separate expert performers from the rest of the crowd. Some experts simply have raw talent. They are born with a natural gift allowing them to exceed what is possible for others. Successful athletes and professionals, alike, admit there is some luck involved, too. Luck looks like being injury-free the day of competition or having a great boss. What about the rest of us who don’t have raw talent or good luck? We compensate with deliberate practice.1
Deliberate practice is not the same as repeating a specific effort, nor is it the same as just playing the game. In other words, going to the driving range, hitting a bucket of balls, then playing 9 holes does not improve your golf game UNLESS you incorporate three key elements. (Let’s pause for a second, did anyone just figure out why I have a double-digit handicap?)
According to Anders Ericsson’s research paper entitled The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance the three key elements of deliberate practice are as follows:
- Setting Specific Goals: In leadership, we know goals are important. We also know that specific goals, those driving specific actions, are even more important. I suspect you already have these identified, the deeper questions are, which specific goals are you avoiding and for what reason?
- Obtaining Immediate Feedback: Ahhh, feedback, it can be so bitter sweet, right? Taking corrective action, say on a golf swing or following an awkward conversation with a colleague, gives us a chance to make small tweaks. If you really want to improve, believe me, small tweaks are much easier to make than large overhauls– just check out Tiger Woods’ new swing.2 How willing are you to ask for feedback from someone you trust?
- Focusing on Technique AND Results: Tips and tricks get the expert performer only so far. In his Harvard Business Review article, The Making of an Expert, Ericsson et al. defines the genuine expert as passing three tests: consistently performing superior to that of the expert’s peers, producing concrete results, and performing in a replicable and measurable way. What are the concrete results you are measuring?
Raw talent and good luck are complimented by deliberate practice. If you are fortunate enough to have raw talent or good luck, acknowledge and leverage that! To magnify performance even more, add focus on specific goals, seek immediate feedback, make corrections, refine technique, and get measurable results.
1 This article was inspired by Stephen Dubner’s Freakonmics Radio podcast: Here’s Why You’re Not an Elite Athlete (Ep. 351). You might enjoy reading Dubner’s How ‘Talented’ Is This Kid? in which he links back to his New York Times Magazine column: A Star Is Made.
2 An Exclusive Look at Tiger Woods’ New Swing, by Ron Kaspriske
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle Sugerman (PMP, PCC) is a speaker, author, and leadership coach with Leading Synergies. She hosts global masterminds, called Synergy Groups, for REALLY BUSY Christians leading with powerful confidence and humble hearts. She works with high-performing leaders focused on organizational effectiveness by refining strategy, inspiring teams, and delighting clients. Michelle specializes in the areas of information technology, project management, franchise management, and business as mission. Michelle lives in Colorado where she hikes fourteeners and enjoys gourmet meals with her loving husband of 21 years.