We’re awash in information. Name your topic, however obscure, and you can find it online. You can read articles, watch how-to videos, and even get full university classes online, for free. Anyone reading this has access to the information needed to master a skill. (Related note: We need to master the skill of identifying the relevant and trustworthy information from the shoreless ocean of a Google search.)
Reading and watching videos only takes you to the brink of experience. For many leaders the problem is a fundamental addiction to information input. It’s satisfying to learn more, because it takes much less work than actual practice and implementation. We’d rather feed the “high” that comes from reading yet another article about a skill than actually practicing it.
We know from past experience that learning new skills is hard. Everything is clumsy and awkward at the beginning, and you don’t want to be embarrassed or feel incompetent. There’s a part of your mind that whispers, “You’re good enough, you don’t need to expose yourself to potential ridicule.” The simple reality is that the path to mastery always goes through downtown, where the speed slows and there are more risks than taking the interstate beltway. We need to recognize our laziness and fears and decide to practice anyway, to take action even at the risk of looking silly. The good news is that you’re probably your own worst critic, and there are ways to get encouraging people around you.
Therefore, we need intentional practice. We need scheduled time and energy to implement what we learn from the information available. Focus on a few specific elements of the skill and work on those, rather than trying to put everything together at once. I recommend Josh Kaufman’s book “The First 20 Hours” for a good explanation of how to break down a skill into key parts.
We also need feedback so we can improve the skill to achieve mastery. Feedback is basically sensing the gap between what is and what’s desired. There is feedback from observing the results of our actions, and adjusting what we do to come closer to the desired result. You might need an external observer – a coach – who can point out what you may be missing. Want to obtain mastery sooner? Get more feedback, and use it.Feedback is basically sensing the gap between what is and what’s desired. Click To Tweet
Intentional practices and feedback are the missing elements of mastery for most leaders. You should apply the same principles to leadership work that you would for mastering a golf swing, cake decorating, weight lifting, swimming faster with less effort, etc. Your leadership work is full of complex skill mixes for creating results (products, services) and influencing others. Consider these skill areas:
- Written and verbal communication (different size groups, different mediums)
- Analyzing data and situations to find key factors
- Project management
- Coaching individuals and teams
- Customer engagement
- Creating and sharing compelling vision of the future
- Balancing effort across many potential areas of work
Where is there an opportunity for your to achieve a higher level of mastery than you have today? What specific information do you need? What kinds of intentional practice will be needed, and how will you get fast feedback?
You never “arrive” at mastery, because there are always potential skill improvements. This is the leadership adventure!