What You Call “Practice” Might Be Hurting You

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I used to play a lot of tennis. I was never terribly good at it. For example, some serves are referred to as a “weapon.” Mine was referred to as a “gift.” But what I lacked in quality, I made up for in quantity. I played a lot of tennis.

I suppose I got incrementally better over time, but I never improved substantially. Why?

Because I wasn’t intentional about improvement.

You’ve probably heard the phrase practice makes perfect. This isn’t quite accurate, as we’ll see shortly—but let’s use it as a starting point. Practice makes perfect.

Notice how you never hear the phrase repetition makes perfect.

Repetition does not make perfect! Repetition merely reinforces whatever it is that you’re repeating. In my case, I was continuously repeating—and therefore reinforcing—crappy tennis habits.

Some people—the lesser ones, of course, not you—seem to equate repetition with practice. They say things like, “Of course I’m a good leader—I’ve been doing it for twenty years!” Yeah? I’ve been playing tennis for forty.

If you want to get better at anything—including leadership—it’s not enough to just repeat it. In fact, repetition may be hurting you. If what you’re repeating is crap—crappy leadership, crappy parenting, crappy tennis—you’re not going to wake up one day and magically be better. There is no such thing as the Crap Fairy.

There is no such thing as the Crap Fairy. #practice #leadership Click To Tweet

Improvement—and perfection (if that were actually attainable, which we know it’s not)—requires intentional practice.

Real improvement requires intentional practice. #leadership Click To Tweet

Notice I said intentional practice, not just practice. Practice by itself doesn’t make perfect. Practice by itself is too unfocused.

Let’s take playing the piano for example. A decent amateur might practice a particular piece over and over until he can finally play it all the way through. A concert pianist, on the other hand, will focus her practice. She might spend three hours on measures 12-14—trying different fingerings, different tempos, different phrasings. Or she might spend an entire day practicing scales in all twelve keys.

What the concert pianist will do, in short, is ask herself this intentional question: “What specific thing do I need to work on today that will move the needle the most?”

Can you see the difference that intentional practice makes?

So, as a leader, what do you need to practice today? What will move your needle—and that of your team and your organization—the most?


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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