Tiger Woods: practice makes perfect

Hard work makes leaders great

The good news is that the path to greatness is open to all of us. It is not something that is based on innate talent.

by Fortune
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Rather, the ability to excel in any chosen field is based on three factors. First, you have to work very hard. When Bobby Fischer emerged as a chess grandmaster at the age of 16, he'd had nine years of intensive study.

Second, you must practice and practice until you have perfected your skills. The activity known as 'deliberate practice' involves reaching just beyond your level of competence, getting feedback and repeating the task over and over.

One study of a group of violinists revealed that the best group had averaged 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over their lives. Thanks to his father's involvement, Tiger Woods had amassed 15 years of practice by the time he had become the youngest ever winner of the US Amateur Championship at the age of 18.

But can business people practice their craft in the same way? The answer is that they can do so easily in some areas such as presenting and negotiating. But in other more critical areas such as making judgments with very little information to go on, it is more difficult. However, it can be done. Managers can approach their tasks differently. Instead of trying to get something done, they can aim to get better at it. Other key areas such as chairing a meeting or writing a report are improveable skills.

If you accept that anything you do at work as a manager is an improveable skill, you will have gained an enviable mindset. People with this kind of mindset have been shown to process information more deeply and retain it longer. They seek more information and are able to develop longer-term perspectives. Feedback is also crucial, though not many people in business are good at getting it.

Through the process managers can build 'mental models' of their businesses - what holds it together - giving them skills that have been developed by business leaders from Bill Gates to Andy Grove. Finally, people who want to excel must do 'delibrate practice' all of the time.  

What it takes to be great
Geoffrey Colvin
Fortune Magazine, October 30, 2006
Review by Morice Mendoza

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