What Do You Practice?
[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Brian McDonald, President of MOR Associates. Brian may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
What do you practice? For what you practice you will get good at.
After devoting his academic life to learning why some individuals are better at certain tasks than others, K. Anders Ericsson has been able to systematically demonstrate that people who climb to the top of just about any field eclipse their peers through something as basic as deliberate practice.
Good intentions are no better than wishful thinking without specific actions that can turn them into a repeated practice. When a person enrolls in a MOR Associates leadership program, we are invested in helping you make sustainable improvements in behaviors that enhance your effectiveness. Practices are the bridge between our aspirations and our attaining these desired changes in our behavior.
There are over a dozen MOR Leadership programs currently getting underway. This may be the most opportune time to focus on what you want to get better at while selecting the practices that will build the desired behaviors. As one participant shared in a recent reflection:
Since last week, I have really thought about who I am and where I am on my journey. I have reflected on the things I need to do to be better, and while I want to dive in with both feet and tackle the world, I can only do it one step, one day at a time. I don’t want to try to change overnight, but I want to work on making lasting changes to really be better for myself and for the team.
What is a practice? A practice is a specific, conscious, repeated act that helps you change your way of being in the service of a goal. As in other arenas – sports, music, dance – consistent practice builds competence and confidence. Practices serve as scaffolding, they are bite-sized tactics that make the application of a bigger change more attainable.
There Are Foundational Practices That Support Becoming a More Effective Leader
Having a weekly planning practice when you set longer-term priorities projecting ahead 4 to 8 weeks or further depending on your role. Take 30 minutes on Friday to look ahead (see the MOR Strategic Priorities Worksheet).
- During this planning session identify actions required to advance these priorities for the week ahead. You can sort these into leading, managing, or doing activities.
- These actions then need to be transferred to the calendar so there is time devoted to accomplishing these next steps. Blocking out time on your calendar to allow you to focus on what you need to accomplish is a practice.
- This review of the calendar should include a look ahead to upcoming meetings you need to prepare for ensuring you are making the best use of these interactions as well as identifying meetings you can delegate. Preparing for important meetings is also a useful practice (see the MOR Self Managing Your Presence Worksheet).
Take ownership for how your time and talent are expended. Scrutinize meeting requests to determine the agenda and whether getting together is necessary. Could a phone call do or can someone else attend?
- Focusing on the important priorities where you add the most value makes a difference. Start each day by jotting down the 3 tasks you want to complete. This too is a practice.
- Ask for agendas at least 1-2 days prior to a meeting to ensure there is a clear purpose and desired outcomes.
Delegate where possible whether it is a task, an inquiry someone else can respond to, or a request to have you attend a session sponsored by a peer.
- Look for opportunities to use delegation to develop staff who can learn by taking on any of these responsibilities.
- Coach your staff to solve the problem on their own. Teach your staff how to exercise judgment and make sound decisions.
And some other practices that lead to building new neural pathways that in time create new habits:
- building relationships by employing the 4 I’s (initiate-inquire-invest-influence)
- writing down three gratitudes a day
- getting in the habit of asking for or offering feedback
- learning to coach your staff by asking them first, “What do you think we should do?” or “What do think is the right way to solve that?”
As another recent participant shared in her reflection,
What I realize, is that keeping perspective and awareness on my role as a leader and owning my calendar, are intentional activities. These activities are like any other practice that with time becomes automatic. I now give myself permission to be less than perfect with these activities and to continue practicing.
As I started to write this reflection, my thinking shifted to a question. What is the ultimate purpose of being aware and prioritizing? What is the gain?
Time on the balcony! Time to see the big picture, time to consider and review information. Ultimately, time to make decisions about building and driving the strategy.
In fact, the real gain is time to lead.
As Ericsson work pointed out, “There is no correlation between time in a profession and performance levels. It is the skill of deliberate practice that makes the difference. Deliberate practice requires mindful concentration as we watch exactly what we are doing, what is working, what isn’t and why. We need clear consistent feedback to achieve a new level of performance.”