My 9 year old son started a new season of baseball recently and like every year, the coach spent the first several practices focused only on fundamentals. He went back over all of the basics of fielding, hitting, and throwing so that the kids could break down the mechanics of those skills and practice each step of the process, slowly, thoroughly, and repetitively.
Why don’t we ever do that with leadership skills? I get that motor skills are a little different, that repetition builds muscle memory, and that we are able to perform those physical mechanics almost unconsciously in a game situation if we practice them enough. I know that’s different in some ways from intellectual skills. I also know that when we put aspiring leaders, coaches, and managers in practice situations repetitively, they get better at things like asking good questions instead of just issuing instructions or executing the mechanics of helping someone change behavior to help them be more successful. Leadership may not require practiced hand eye coordination, but it does benefit from repeating the fundamentals associated with leadership behaviors.
When it comes to intellectual skills, practice creates awareness and understanding. It’s one thing to sit in a class and learn how to create a culture of accountability on your team. It’s another to practice the behaviors that cause that kind of culture over and over until it feels comfortable to execute those skills, and until we build good habits and patterns around how to behave in a way that makes that kind of culture happen. Granted, practice is a little tougher in the world of work but it’s not impossible and it also doesn’t have to be done only in simulated situations. If you want to be a better coach, start coaching every day. If you want to cause your team to be more engaged, practice having different kinds of conversations with them. Yes it’s important to learn the principles of good coaching and how to create employee engagement. But once you have, start practicing those skills immediately. We teach those things because they matter and because they make a difference in businesses, but leaders become more effective not just because they know what to do, but because they practice what to do.
I remember reading some research a while back where they asked 100 managers to describe good leadership and 95 of them could articulate the principles that good leaders should follow. When they observed this same set of managers only 5 of them routinely demonstrated those practices with their team. The knowing-doing gap is big in leadership and practice helps to fill it. Yes we need good training in how to lead more effectively, how to use influence rather than rely on authority, how to effectively plan for and lead the change process, how to hire and develop talent on a team, and how to help people change behavior. (By the way, if you need help with any of these, just give us a call.) But what happens after the learning is just as important.
If you want to build lasting and steadily improving leadership capability in any organization training and teaching is a start. Coaching and practice is what will make the training matter in the long run and ensure that you didn’t waste your money on an event instead of investing in true growth for your team. Leadership is a skill and skills get better when we practice. Just ask any 9 year old at the beginning of baseball season.
Leading Through Influence
We develop better leaders so they can build a better future. Contact Us to learn about leader development via our training, workshops and executive coaching.