A Practice of Leadership

Written by Jessie Brennan, Program Manager at Work2Live

A large part of my role here at Work2Live is research. A client has a specific challenge and I go out and learn everything I can about it. What does the research say? What are the current accepted best practices? How can the client put this information into action? Because of my work, I have learned quite a lot about quite a lot of things. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job.

Despite being in my role for quite some time, and learning so much, I can’t say I’ve yet mastered many of the skills that we so often promote. I think that my experience is the same for many people that attend our trainings- we love the information while we’re engaging with it, we see the possibility of what the future might hold if we apply it, and when the training ends, we never think of it again. Or we actually put a few things into practice, but when things get busy, they fall off our schedule and then off our radar completely. We’re simply not practicing.

That’s actually not true, we’re practicing something, but maybe not what we want to. Everything that we do: our patterns of behavior, the way we sit, write emails, coordinate with others, listen, engage in (or avoid) difficult conversations, and get upset are all things that we practice. Every time you unconsciously engage in any kind of behavior, you are practicing that behavior. Like a golf swing, or tennis serve that you have spent years practicing, you will find it difficult to change this behavior without deliberate and conscious practice.

Anders Ericsson, editor of the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, has focused his life’s work on understanding how expertise and high-level performance is developed. According to him, not all practice is created equal. It is a particular type of practice, which Ericsson christened ‘deliberate practice’, that makes the difference. Therefore, practice and experience are not the same thing. One can have years of experience and not have engaged in significant deliberate practice.

Ericsson gives this example in a Harvard Business Review article:

To illustrate this point let’s imagine that you are playing golf for the first time. In the early phases, you try to understand the basic strokes and focus on avoiding gross mistakes (like driving the ball into another player). You practice on the putting green, hit balls at a driving range, and play rounds with others who are most likely novices like you. In a surprisingly short time (perhaps 50 hours), you will develop better control and your game will improve. From then on, you will work on your skills by driving and putting more balls and engaging in more games, until your strokes become automatic: you’ll think less about each shot and play more from intuition. Your golf game