Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How Leaders Build Belief In Their Goal - Part 2

Image converted using ifftoanyWhat do Tiger Woods, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates have in common? If you guessed money or fame, you’re right. But if you guessed they have “achieved extraordinary results,” you’re spot on as my friends in the UK might say.

How did they and other peak performers achieve these extraordinary results? For many years, outstanding achievement in any endeavor was thought to be the result of outstanding genes. However, recent research has shed considerable light on the nature versus nurture controversy. Nurture has come out on top. Innate talent or natural gifts, once thought to be the key driver of amazing accomplishments, have been relegated to a secondary role. Something as simple as practice (yes, we're talking about practice) seems to be the major contributor to outstanding goal achievement. While modeling (discussed in a previous blog) is about learning from the best, mastery – the second step in building self-efficacy - is the process of practicing what your models teach you.

In a review of more than 300 scientific studies entitled, The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, Professor K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University and his colleagues concluded, "Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years." (1)

As Fortune magazine senior editor Geoffrey Calvin points out, Tiger Woods’ father introduced him to golf at the age of 18 months, and encouraged him to practice. (2) Tiger went on to become the youngest Winner of the US Amateur Championship, at age 18… after 15 years of intense practice. Warren Buffett is well known for investing long hours studying financial statements of investment targets. Bill Gates had more than 10 years of concentrated programming practice before he ever cofounded Microsoft.

The importance of practice small steps in reaching goals is also illustrated in the movie What About Bob. In this comedy, Richard Dreyfuss portrays a psychiatrist/author who has a dysfunctional patient named Bob, played by Bill Murray. Throughout the movie, Dreyfus is trying to help Bob take small steps to improve his psychological health. In fact, the title of Dreyfuss’s book is called Baby Steps. Practicing increasingly difficult "baby" steps to achieve a goal, based on what is learned from models, is what this movie and mastery all about.

If you or your team members need to learn new skills or practice old ones in order to achieve your long-term goal, then you need to practice the art of mastery, the second key to building self-efficacy. Mastery states that your belief in your ability to reach your goal will increase as you deliberately and progressively practice the actions that you learn from your models.

As in modeling, you have already practiced mastery in other parts of your life. Have you ever trained for an athletic event or any sport? If your answer is yes, how did you prepare? What did they call the sessions that prepared you for the race or the competition? (If you answered practice, you get a gold star.) Remember learning how to drive? Did you start out driving on the highway? Of course not. You probably started in some deserted parking lot with a driving instructor telling you what to do. You then gradually increased the complexity of environments that you drove in. Eventually, you worked your way to the highway. You built your belief that you could achieve your goal step-by-step until you became a highway star.

The importance of progressive or deliberate practice was also emphasized by the extraordinary work by Professor Bloom at the University of Chicago. (3) He investigated the lives of 120 of the America’s very high achievers in six diverse professions (concert pianists, research mathematicians, neurologists, sculptors, Olympic swimmers, and tennis champions). He interviewed these peak performers, along with their coaches, parents, and other family members in an effort to uncover the common elements of their exceptional accomplishments. His key findings tell us how to practice mastery in order to reach our long-term goals:

  • View early practice and performance activities as play
  • Maintain a strong commitment to excellence
  • Receive strong, on-going encouragement from coaches
  • Develop high commitment to increasingly complex learning and growing

Practice does not make perfect, progressive practice makes perfect.

All four of these keys are related to taking small steps over time. Dr. Bloom’s 557-page encyclopedia of achievement is reminding us that if we need to learn or practice new skills to achieve our goal, we must develop the discipline of mastery.

Keep eXpanding,


1. K. Anders Ericsson and colleagues; The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, Psychological Review, 1993, Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406.

2. Geoffrey Colvin; What it takes to be great, Fortune Magazine, October 19, 2006.

3. Bloom B: Developing Talent in Young People. Random House: New York, 1985.

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