Managerial skills are not honed by going on managerial courses, or by reading books, or doing an MBA. That is not to say that you cannot “learn” quite a bit on these courses, or in these books or doing an MBA. But if you want to get good at them then you have to practice them time and time again.
When carrying out business coaching with clients I very often find that they are afraid to try out something new in case it will fail. I understand that as it is something we all experience, but the act of practicing actually guarantees that you will fail. The purpose of practice whether it is to play the piano, play a sport or learn a new skill is to move from a place of “not doing it right” to “doing it right”, and the gap between the two is filled by loads of “doing it wrong”.
So, in business, if the skill you are seeking is to become a great coach, it is necessary to be a pretty poor one, then a better one, then a reasonable one before you become a good one, and then you progress to be a great one. You need to practice and practice do that you move on this continuum from being poor to being great. There is no shortcut to greatness when it comes to developing managerial skills.
In his great book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about this extensively. He talks about research done at the Berlin Academy of Music where they separated violinists into three separate categories – the great ones, the good ones and the ones who would become teachers, but would never perform. What is fascinating is that the number one predictor for the category that they fell into was the number of hours they spend practicing.
The findings were fascinating – those that became teachers practiced 4,000 hours in their lifetime as students, the good ones practiced 8,000 hours and the great ones? They had all practiced at least 10,000 hours.
The other factor that was fascinating was – there was not one violinist who had practiced 10,000 hours that was not classified as being great. So, the message is clear – practice 10,000 hours and you will be a great violinist. Gladwell’s conclusion is that if you practice something for 10,000 hours you will become great!
So, what are the conclusions for all of us? Clearly, if you want to develop your managerial skills, you must invest a lot of time in practicing them – and you can only practice these in the field, not in the classroom or in your head. Your managerial skills will only be developed if you practice, and fail, time and time again until you become great at them. Don’t procrastinate at practice because you fear failure – failure is part of learning.
The other conclusion I would draw from this is that you had better like being a manager, because I cannot imagine the drudgery of practicing something I dislike for 10,000 hours!