Why Leaders Get Stuck at Average

Some leaders think they’re good leaders when they’re stuck at average.

We don’t automatically improve as time passes.  The longer we do something, the more likely we are to do it like we’ve always done it.

Leading doesn’t make you a better leader. Just like playing golf doesn’t make you a better golfer.

The only way to improve performance – in any field – is purposeful practice. (Researchers and authors often use the expression ‘deliberate practice’.)*

Purposeful practice:

#1. Identify the components of leadership.

Golfers improve by spending time with each club. They try new grips, swings, and stances.

You never become a better leader with vague aspirations like, “I want to be a better leader.”

Improve small aspects of your game in order to develop your whole game.

  1. Leading meetings.
  2. Communicating.
  3. Inspiring.
  4. Directing.
  5. Challenging.
  6. Encouraging.
  7. Listening like a leader.

#2. Focus.

In order to improve your whole game, you must focus on one part of your game. You might decide to lead meetings where everyone participates equally

#3. Try new behaviors.

What will you do to engage everyone equally?

  1. Sit at the side of the table.
  2. Monitor participation.
  3. Ask quiet members a question.
  4. Practice kind candor. “I notice you haven’t said anything, Mary. What’s coming to your mind?”
  5. Explain your goal to the team.
  6. Send the agenda the day before the meeting.
  7. Prepare and ask open questions.

New behaviors feel awkward, but improvement begins at the point of discomfort. If you aren’t feeling some discomfort, you aren’t improving.

#3. Seek feedback.

  1. Keep track of who talks for how long.
  2. Notice behaviors that energize and engage people.
  3. Explain your goal and ask for feedback from the team.

#4. Repeat #1 through #3.

#5. Adopt and hone behaviors that best engage everyone equally. 

#6. Repeat in another area of leadership. 

Leaders improve when they work on small aspects of their leadership game.

How might leaders engage in purposeful practice?

What areas of your leadership would benefit from purposeful practice?


Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin and David Drummond