Archive for May, 2012

Phelps, Nash and Horowitz III

Valdimir Horowitz was one of the greatest piano players of all time, and was quoted as saying, “If I stop practicing for a day, I notice it.  Two days, my wife notices it.  Three days, the critics notice.”

If one of the best piano players on the planet had to keep practicing daily to stay at that level, what does that tell us about business and leaders?  We have to keep practicing!

Phelps, Nash and Horowitz II

Two time NBA All-Star, Steve Nash, is another example of the power of practice.  Nash has one of the most reliable and smooth jump shots in the history of the NBA.  Upon further investigation you learn that he is extremely regimented in both his off-season practice and his pregame routine.  Before every game, Nash shoots the ball from the same locations all over the court.  During the game it looks easy, but his accuracy is the result of an unwavering commitment to disciplined practice.

Phelps, Nash and Horowitz

These three men are great examples of practice at work.  Most of us know about Michael Phelps, the Olympic gold medalist.  His coach appeared on Good Morning America and reported that Michael practiced 365 days a year.  The news reporter asked the coach, “Did Michael practice on Christmas day?” 

“Absolutely,” his coach replied. 

“On his birthday?” the interviewer asked.

“For sure, twice on his birthday.”

Can you imagine?  So if you wanted to win a gold medal, you would learn from this conversation that you might have to commit to that level of practice.  Now, not everyone has Michael Phelps’ body type and not everyone has his muscle makeup, but the point is, of all the other swimmers who have similar body types and muscle makeup, his intensity and his commitment to deliberate practice obviously put him over the top.

Let’s Better Understand Deliberate Practice

Let’s talk about regular practice versus deliberate practice.   Let me describe my two different practices in golf and see if you can discern the difference.

In regular practice, I hit a large bucket of balls every week, thinking that this will make me a better golfer.  In deliberate practice, I hit 100 golf balls with my nine iron, with the goal of hitting at least 80 of them with a ten foot circle of a flag stick that is 125 yards from where I am standing.  Do you hear the difference?

Do not forget my golf deliberate practice example as you help your coachees commit to new practice.  Specific, detailed, and highly focused intended results are the very essence of both deliberate practice and greatness!

Research Studies Prove Practice is the Key to Greatness

Since Professor K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University’s groundbreaking research in 1993, many scientists have been able to prove that practice is what makes some people better performers and produce the highest results.  Research indicates that across a board spectrum of activities, from medicine to performing arts to sports, people who are the very best at what they do practice more and practice differently than anyone else.

The research focused on something called deliberate practice.  Deliberate practice has a few key characteristics:

  • The practice is detailed about specific techniques
  • The practice was designed to produce a very specific result
  • The practice involved stretching past your current capacity

When I first read about the idea of deliberate practice, I thought it scientifically and empirically validated the very essence of coaching.  As an Executive Coach, I have been focused on helping business leaders identify and practice the specific skills and attitudes they must master to become the best leaders they can be.

The deliberate practice idea also supported the notion that if these leaders could learn how to effectively coach their teams using deliberate practice, they would have a proven recipe for competitive success.  The coaching leader idea now had the statistical support and evidence I needed to sway the logical, numbers-driven CEOs.

Deliberate Practice – Emotional Self Control

Take a breath!

 

Just a friendly reminder to take a breath and get control of your emotions before they take control of you. Decide who is running the show, you or your emotions. Lack of control can derail your career and affect your relationships outside of work.

Mom’s old adage of “think before you speak,” definitely applies here. There are times when we all wish we had taken a breath before commenting in a meeting, replying to an email, or venting at the water cooler. Just like any other acquired skill you have to practice this so that when faced with a challenge you are able to take a breath and make your Mom proud of the way you handled yourself!