Category Archives: Growth

Achieving Peak Performance

“No one appreciates the agonizing effort (Miyamoto) Musashi has made.  Now that his years of training have yielded spectacular results, everybody talks about his “God-given talent.”  That’s how men who don’t try very hard comfort themselves.” – Yoshikawa Eiji

Struggling to reach your potential is hard work and in the words of Robert Browning, it is “a road less traveled.”  And while it is not clear why so few put in the time and dedication to discover just how good they can be, it is clear that what is often mistaken for God-given talent is just the byproduct of what Geoffrey Colvin calls “deliberate practice.”  In his book, Talent is Overrated, Colvin dispels the myth that peak performers are predestined for greatness.  Colvin found that not only was future greatness not determined by your genetics, it wasn’t solely a function of hard work either.  In study after study, Colvin found that “many people not only fail to become outstanding at what they do, no matter how many years they spend doing it, they frequently don’t even get any better than they were when they started.”

In industry after industry, when it comes to mastering critical skills, people with lots of experience are often no better at their jobs than those with very little experience.  Even more scary, when it comes to leadership ability, a study from INSEAD business school found that managers with experience did not produce better quality outcomes (on average) than those without experience….and occasionally, actually got worse with experience.

So if peak performance is not based on talent or hard work alone…how can we escape the “experience trap” and reach our potential?  It turns out there are four keys to becoming a peak performer:

Know the right behaviors – while this may sound easy, discovering the right behaviors you need to master can be a challenge.  Even with keen observation and careful analysis, most peak performers struggle to identify and share the “secrets to their success.”  As I wrote in “Mastering New Skills,” while “there are always explicit aspects of what experts will share and tell you to practice…more often than not the more important points come from the implicit behaviors the experts do, but do not explicitly practice, teach or even notice.”  Begin by narrowing your focus to these behaviors.

Accurately and honestly assess where you are – after identifying the behaviors you want to master, the next step is to baseline your current performance.  The problem is, our brains are programed to tell us the story we want to hear about our level of expertise, rather than the one we need to hear.  That, combined with our fragile egos can spell trouble for seeing the gap between the behaviors we want and those we currently exhibit.

Put in the reps – Next, get your hands dirty and do the work.  I have heard it said that you need to repeat an action 10,000 times before you truly make it a reflexive movement.  Colvin says it takes peak performers 10 years of deliberate practice to make the skill appear God-given.  Either way you look at it, be prepared for work hard, sacrifice and struggle on your way to mastery.

Have faith in the process – finally, you have to believe that if you identify the right behaviors, embrace your gap and do the work, results will follow.  The results always lag the thousands of repetitions, so without an unwavering faith in the process, the odds are high you will quit long before you accomplish your goals.

The formula for achieving greatness is not difficult, but it is demanding.  The road is long and hard and requires both patience and persistence.  To be successful you need to know both the critical behaviors that lead to success and to be open and honest about your current skill level.  Armed with the knowledge of your gap and belief in the process, you can set your sights on internalizing the behaviors and mastering the new skills.

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Be Present and Listen Deeply

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. Leaders who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” – Anonymous

Listening is a skill…and for most of us, it is underdeveloped.  When done well, listening is an active event, which leads to a greater understanding of your people, your process and your potential.  When done poorly, listening is a reductive exercise where information and data is cherry picked based on our previous experience, beliefs and biases.  In our Coaching Camp, we teach leaders the importance of listening deeply as a critical step in making an emotional connection with team members.  When a leader develops his / her ability to stay in the moment, they set the stage for a productive partnership where they can inspire team members to engage in continuous improvement and challenge them to grow.

The Japanese have an expression, “ichi go, ichi ei.”  Loosely translated, it means “one time, one meeting” and beautifully demonstrates the concept of listening deeply.  When two people meet in a traditional tea house, they are not allowed to discuss any topic other than their immediate surroundings and the elements of the tea ceremony (the tea, the house, the atmosphere, etc.)  The intent is to develop one’s ability to focus fully on the moment and not be distracted by anything else.  It is a discipline in “being present,” and allows the participants to learn to not only listen to what is being said, but more importantly, what is being communicated.

What effect can listening deeply and being present have on your results?

Risk van Baaren and his colleagues at the University of Nijmegen designed a simple experiment that demonstrated the power of listening deeply and connecting.  The team set up an experiment in a restaurant and asked a waitress to help them.  After seating the customers, she was instructed to take their order in one of two ways.  50% of the time she was to listen politely and then use positive phrases such as “okay” and “coming right up.”  The other 50% of the time, she was asked to repeat the order back to the customers.  The effect of demonstrating she had listened and understood their desires by repeating the customers words back to them was significant.  The customers who had heard their own words repeated left tips that were 70 % larger than those left by the other group.

As team members we all long to feel as if we add value to our organization and that our contribution is recognized by those who lead us.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to make each person feel valuable by removing roadblocks, making the best use of their abilities and listening deeply.  When people feel valuable they create a connection with the organization, each other and those who lead them.  Only when an emotional connection has been made, can you engage your team fully in the process of change and challenge them to reach their potential.