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’.)*
#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.
- Leading meetings.
- Listening like a leader.
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?
- Sit at the side of the table.
- Monitor participation.
- Ask quiet members a question.
- Practice kind candor. “I notice you haven’t said anything, Mary. What’s coming to your mind?”
- Explain your goal to the team.
- Send the agenda the day before the meeting.
- 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.
- Keep track of who talks for how long.
- Notice behaviors that energize and engage people.
- 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
More great thoughts Dan. I have firmly planted my feet in the Discomfort Shoes of 2017.
We are also training now with application of content as an expectation for all who attend. We provide time for our staff to plan that application effort. We ask them also to imagine and identify what success looks like. We review/discuss that application when we meet next and allow all to input and provide feedback with their ideas. We view application as that purposeful practice.
Thanks for another great post!
Thanks Will. Your comment is filled with useful ideas. It really doesn’t matter how much information we have in our heads, if that information doesn’t translate into behaviors.
The idea of imagination is one of my favorites. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t do it. 🙂
Each of us have to apply ourselves for being leaders, based on #1 working with these components would be a great step in building our roles as Leaders. #2 Focusing is a daily function we have to master with “the multi tasking concept” thrust upon us quite often, which dictates otherwise, prioritization needs to take over when conflicts develop.
The more feedback we can acquire on the journey of leadership, the better the results can be, if we can incorporate the purposeful practice in our daily regiment!
Thanks Tim. What comes to mind as I read your comment is the opportunity and challenge of practicing leadership while we’re engaged in leadership.
It seems to me that we can learn, role play, rehearse, but leaders also practice while they execute. We try something and see how it works. Keep the good. Throw out the ineffective. Try something else.
Leadership is a continual practice. When we stop practicing we stagnate or, worse yet, we decline.
Constant juggling match,not sure if we ever attain perfection? Perhaps if we do we went to far!
After all we are humans subject to change!
“I notice you haven’t said anything, Mary. What’s coming to your mind?” I need to practice this more. It is often the person that is the most quiet who has the best answer because he or she has been listening…
Thanks Patrick. I had a person in a meeting give me feed back on the question, “What’s coming to your mind?” She said it was freeing. She didn’t need to give the perfect answer, just her thoughts. This feedback came from someone who preferred to mull things over before speaking.
I hope it works well for you.
Practice is good, but practicing the same old thing does not generate much improvement. I play pool and have since I was 3. Self taught, which should go a long way to explaining a lot of things. Great knowledge of the game, the rules, strategy and all that. But only when I took a lesson did I actually understand the critical aspect of playing pool well, which is stroke mechanics.
There are 16 parts to a pool stroke and I was only doing 16 of them wrong or inconsistently. I needed video feedback to see all the things I varied and to see that my basic swing needed LOTS of correction. But I was a GOOD average pool player because of all the knowledge and understanding of the game, and hard to beat because of my strategies and tactics.
In managing, we tend to do the things that work. Those things get stronger and stronger, but they may not be what is needed to get better. Being able to hit the ball harder is not going to make it go into the desired pocket. Same with managing. Strengths get amplified over time and can actually be perceived by others as weaknesses.
Since you know how to do things the right way, you are also subject to being rigid and inflexible when presented with new ideas. LOTS of things keep up stuck at average, and continuing to practice those same things only make us slightly more likely to creep above that level.
Thanks Dr. Scott. I thought I might see you here today!
I’m glad you explained purposeful practice. We don’t improve by doing the same thing over and over. Yes, we might get more consistent with repetition, but we don’t develop new skills.
The other thing that’s so important is having a teacher/coach/mentor. Everyone who is serious about improving has someone helping them improve. We might improve some on our own, but we soon top out and begin repeating the same behaviors hoping for different results.
“#3-3. Explain your goal and ask feedback from the team.” OR: Work with your team to develop the team’s goal – as the first step of addressing the key situation at hand. Better learning / practice for the leader …
Unrelated point: You used the word, ‘average’, in this post. I’ve been Considering material lately that points out how worthless knowing what average is since no one or no thing is ever average…
Thanks John. Yes, teams would be useful in setting team goals and might also help a leader set personal goals.
Thanks for the heads up on ‘average’. I went out a read a couple articles on the idea. It’s something I’ll keep in mind and look to learn more about.