As an executive you practice your trade on-the-job. You have to jump into the fire of an important business moment and do your best, right?
What about practice outside 9-5?
Most executives don’t have room in their busy schedules to break down their role into critical aspects and then work to improve the details of each critical aspect.
However, if you want to master the five critical aspects of being a manager, then you need to practice its five pillars (talent management, leading, setting strategy, planning, and executing) over and over and over again in a simulated environment. Think of a professional baseball player. They practice their swing daily. Not just in games.
But how do you simulate real-world business activities?
By far the single best book I’ve ever read on how to develop expert performers in any field is “Development of Professional Expertise,” edited by Dr. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University.
Before you rush off to buy it, let me warn you: This book requires concentrated reading over an extended period of time. It is 491 pages, and it is filled with detailed stories of how to develop expert performance in the military, education, medicine, fine arts, athletics, business and several other areas of performance. If you are willing to put in the effort, this book can be an absolute game-changer in your career.
First, realize that an actual performance surrounded by thoughtful reflection can be a simulation for a future actual performance. Second, you can create “practice business situations” which allow you to improve your delivery of a real business situation.
Say you want to improve the effectiveness with which you influence other people. Here are a variety of ways you might attempt to influence these people:
Each of these can be a simulation of a leadership performance.
Before you leave the voicemail, ask yourself what your objective is for the voicemail. Write down what you intend to achieve, why you want to achieve it, and how you will attempt to achieve it through the voicemail.
After you leave the voicemail reflect on what happened. Did the voicemail elicit the response you hoped for? In what way was the voicemail effective, in what way was it not effective, and in what way could it have been more effective?
Rather than just leaving the voicemail and moving on with your day, turn the act of leaving the voicemail into a simulation of an act of leadership. You do this by surrounding the act with thinking and reflection. In doing so, you can improve on the subtle aspects of leaving a voicemail. You can use this same approach with all of the other ways of influencing people.
Of course, you can practice writing and saying the voicemail without sending it to anyone. This is like the pianist practicing a song on the piano before giving it in an actual concert. You can record the voicemail and then listen to it to see if you believe it can impact the desired outcomes. Steve Jobs is famous for practicing his presentations over and over and over again in order to refine them to the point that they generate exactly what he hoped for.
A real-life example of sustaining thought-filled practice
Recently I had the opportunity to take Ben with me to watch the Missouri State Class 3 Boys Soccer Championship. CBC High School won the championship, but more than that they put on the single greatest display of soccer I have ever seen at any level. I sent a note to Terry Michler, the head soccer coach at CBC, congratulating him on the victory and on his extraordinary career. He wrote me back and said he enjoys what he does and that he still has a passion for learning how to be an even more effective coach.
Then it dawned on me what this was really all about. He has won six state championships, he has coached for 38 years, and he is the all-time winningest coach in the history of high school soccer in the United States with over 800 victories. And yet after all of that he said to me that he still has a passion for learning how to be more effective.
Terry Michler has proven what it takes to be an expert performer. It’s up to us to follow the example.