Coaching Story | Great Leaders Practice Deliberately

Has anyone ever said to you that they or their organization embraces “continuous improvement.” It’s a pretty common buzzword, and don’t all of us want to get better at something? How can we think, and more importantly, do, something about that?

In Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool’s masterwork Peak, they describe a significant term —  deliberate practice — as a combination of purposeful practice and developing mental representations. 

Let’s summarize. Purposeful practice:

• Has well-defined, specific goal
• is focused
• involves feedback
• requires getting out of one’s comfort zone

Now that’s just a start. Deliberate practice also requires development of mental representations, or pre-existing patterns of information - facts, images, rules, relationships and so on - that are held in long-term memory, and are easy to access. The key to deliberate practice is to go beyond our potential, or to make possible things that were not possible before. The way to do this is to learn a new skill which will then trigger a structural change in the brain rather than simply continuing to practice a skill already learned.

Let’s summarize again. Deliberate practice:

• Develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established
• Takes place outside one's comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her abilities
• Involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance
• Requires a person's full attention and conscious action
• Involves feedback and modifications of efforts in response to that feedback
• Both produces and depends on effective mental representations
• Nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically

An effective leader understands both purposeful practice and that the quality and quantity of mental representations are vitally important. Imagine a leader that not only practices deliberately themself, but one that prioritizes developing others through deliberate practice. Good leaders practice purposefully. Great leaders practice deliberately.