Practice Makes Perfect Or a Leadership Mindset?

March 29, 2016 Joe Britto

If you want to be an expert at something the mantra is “practice, practice, practice” . Put the hours in. And then practice some more. Same with leadership, right? Well no, actually. Don’t practice. It’s wasting your time (and probably your money too).

All the Practice in the World…

Specifically, jettison the idea of massed practice—intense, focused and repetitive practice of one skill. You might feel like you’re making progress when you’re “practising” but it doesn’t translate out there in the real world.

And I know if you’ve gone above and beyond on your CPD, or if you’ve spent time, money and energy on your professional development to get to the top of your game, this is not what you want to hear.

So if you want to lead in your field and you stop all the practising, what do you do instead?

You develop a leadership mindset that shapes everything you do. Why, and how? We’ll come back to that.

Those Mythical Leadership Practices

We all have those moments where we’d just like some nice clear rules for leadership that we can learn, keep practising and bingo—we’ve mastered leadership. Job done. And sometimes, if we’re honest enough to admit it, that’s what we’re looking for when we click on blogs that list the five practices of leadership, or rules successful people live by, or some other list of clickbait diktats.

In reality we know it’s just not like that, and following all the rules or practices in the world won’t make us leaders in our fields, or achieve our goals.

You wouldn’t think so from the many books, articles and theories about achieving success. From clocking up hours of practice, to making the most of serendipity—see Frans Johannson’s Click Moment going head to head with Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to mastery—they just keep on coming.

But although—no surprises here—I don’t think there’s a blueprint to follow, there’s merit in some of the theories.

Practice—Shaken and Stirred

Johannson popularized the idea of domain dependency, and it’s this concept that’s shaken up our ideas about practice. Domain dependency shows the varying impact of practice in different fields. So, fields with specific and unchanging rules to learn (tennis and chess for example) lend themselves well to the hours of practice to mastery theory. But in less predictable domains, like business and entrepreneurship, those rules don’t apply.

Leaving aside Johannson’s focus on serendipity in business, what most intrigued me was a detail in the original Princeton study on domain dependency: for professions it showed practice made a tiny 1% difference between individual performance.

Does that leave you feeling like those CPD hours are just a tick-box exercise?

But, if the domain dependency conclusion is true for professions, the bigger question is: what are we doing so badly in our workplaces that all our practice apparently makes such an insignificant difference to our individual performance?

All in the Leadership Mindset

When it comes to leadership maybe it’s time to rethink our ideas about practice and how we develop in an unpredictable environment. Maybe what we should be looking at instead isn’t practice, it’s a leadership mindset.

And that leadership mindset is about saying what you see, even if it isn’t the popular view. It’s about being honest with yourself about your shortcomings and having the courage to do something about it.

Imagine you walk into your workplace without all the pretences and, yes practices, we think make us look like good leaders, managers or employees. Be willing to be yourself rather than the pale “professional” image so many of us find it safer to put forward.

Feels uncomfortable and liberating at the same time? That’s good, it means you’re not just practising, it means you’re actually living a leadership mindset.

It’s a mindset that challenges your abilities rather than refining your skills, (a lot like being in Flow). Developing that mindset means the unpredictability of our world doesn’t faze you. Maybe it even excites you.

How’s that for a place to start?

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What to dive deeper?

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