Learning to be a Better Leader
‘Practice makes perfect’ – except most of us aren’t aiming for perfection. We’d just like to be better, or perhaps faster, or maybe just find what we do a little easier.
In the early 1990s, a team of psychologists in Berlin, Germany studied violin students. Specifically, they studied their practice habits in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. All of the subjects were asked this question: “Over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?”
All of the violinists had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age twenty, the elite performers averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only 4,000 hours of practice.
The elite had more than double the practice hours of the less capable performers.
If we put in the hours – when we just show up and do the job in front of us – we will get better at it. Like muscle memory for a musician, it will start to come naturally to us and we can start using that excess learning capacity for something new.
The danger is that even for those of us who do put in the hours, many of us stay right there – with the comfortable and the familiar – with what we’re good at. Our challenge is whether we are willing to go beyond what we’re now good at now, to step outside our comfort zone and broaden our experience and expertise, in order to be even better.
Why We Undervalue the Practice of Practice
Too often in business, things move so fast, we don’t have time to practice anything. We operate on a ‘make it, pack it, ship it’ mentality, before we move on to the next project. Whilst we might be aiming for excellence in what we do, delivery trumps excellence most of the time. ‘On time’ and ‘on budget’ is usually good enough.
Practice requires us to slow down, to take time out and examine our systems, in order to improve on the process, in order to make excellence possible. However the cost of change and the risks involved usually keep us from pursuing that.
More and more companies are willing to hit pause though. Instead of the traditional annual reviews, businesses are taking a more developmental approach, and seeing the rewards:
“The future of performance management will include more feedback and place a greater emphasis on development. And as employees become even better at their jobs, it’s a win-win for everyone“
The Value of Rehearsal
If practice is repetition, creating muscle memory, rehearsal is role-play. It converts that effort into a specific situation. In a business scenario this can be risky.
We’ve all experienced a moment during an interview or pitch, where we present ourselves as more than we are with the desire to step out and fill that space. If we’re right about ourselves, we’ll rise to the challenge. If we’re not, we could fall flat on our face.
“…a mindset of practice and rehearsal can help us to turn our weaknesses into strengths“
A safer place to rehearse your skills or a work out a specific scenario would be during a leadership programme, which is what we offer our delegates. Everyone wants to nail it first time, especially in front of their clients, but what if you could rehearse that?
Having a mindset of practice and rehearsal can help us to turn our weaknesses into strengths, unpack the latest leadership theories and stretch our developing muscles.
The Value of Every Opportunity
Most of us will have opportunities for learning that we miss every day. There could even be people around us that we can learn from. So often though we’re held back by insecurity or uncertainty. But if we are committed to learning, to get better and beyond what we do now, we need to take every opportunity we can.
Usually it takes some time on our part to identify our learning opportunities. Then it takes some curiosity to find the right questions and some courage to step out and pursue them. It also takes confidence from us to believe that it’s worth the cost of looking foolish to go after what we really need.
To the surprise and delight of our delegates, our leadership programmes can have the most unexpected people composing music, writing songs and even conducting an orchestra. All for the purpose of inspiring change, uniting teams and creating new corporate leaders.
At Moving Performance we use music to learn about ourselves, how we relate to other people, how we lead, and how we can contribute to a multi-disciplinary, high-performing team.
Musicians can teach us a lot about what it takes to practice, to rehearse and take the risks necessary to perform at a world-class level night after night. Fortunately we work with some of the best in the business. Come and find out what you can learn from them.