Thursday, April 16, 2009

How Leaders Develop Expertise

LadderUPj0438395 In previous blogs, we discussed that in order to achieve difficult goal, you might need to help your team develop the expertise required. The seven steps of mastery described below show you how to develop and practice any new skill you need to learn in order to build the belief that you can achieve your goal.

1. Select a critical skill or competency you want to improve that will help you reach your long-term goal. Then write a goal for this skill. Focus on a small, relatively simple, stretch goal. For example, if you want to improve your listening skills, your S.M.A.R.T. goal could be: During all meetings this month, I will improve my listening skills by asking at least one question before giving my opinion.

2. Learn as much as possible about this skill from the many models available to you. Whom could you call who does it well? What books or audio programs can you digest? Are there seminars or workshops you can take? What if you simply search “improve listening skills” on the internet? You might also choose to observe or interview a few of the best listeners in your unit/company.

3. Decide how to measure your progress. British scientist Lord Kelvin asserted, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it." Therefore, you must choose a method (or person) to provide feedback as you test the new skill. For example, you might simply place a check mark on a notepad every time you ask a question during all one-on-one and team meetings for a month. One leader I coached shared his “listening practice goal” with his virtual team. He then invited them to count his questions during their one-on-one phone conversations and virtual meetings. That which gets recorded gets repeated. He was promoted during our coaching agreement.

4. Practice deliberately. Begin practicing the skill in a safe environment. Safe environments are the training wheels of new skills. Olympic gymnasts practice new skills in safety harnesses. When you try the new skill, do so where you feel safe and where the consequences of poor performance are minimal. Practice the skill in your car, at home, with a friend. For example, leaders who have improved their listening skills, often begin at home were they are more comfortable taking their training wheels off in front of loved ones.

As your comfort level increases, increase the difficulty of the skill. The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching just beyond your current abilities. On the basketball court, at the driving range, or in a business setting, most of us do what we've always done before without progressively increasing the difficulty. As your improve your listening competency, for example, you could try your growing skills in a variety of different or complex environments (e.g., with key customers, in executive meetings, during difficult negotiations…). If you want to achieve difficult goals, you must practice what you don't do well.

5. Record feedback after using the skill. We don't learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on our experience. It’s important to analyze performance immediately after trying the new skill. (In the military, these are called after action reviews.) Begin your evaluation process by describing what went well. Make a quick list of things that you felt good about when you attempted this new skill. Next, write a few thoughts about what did not go as planned. Why didn’t it? What can you learn from the trial that will help next time? Be gentle with yourself and others. Complete this step by refocusing on the positive and what went well.

6. Reward yourself for taking action. Using positive feedback can keep you motivated and on track throughout the day. When a baby learns to walk, the smiling faces of cheering adults spur the child on as it gains mastery over its environment. Employ the power of immediate rewards to reinforce the baby steps toward long-term success. These pat-on-the-back rewards increase the probability that you will try, try, try again, especially if at first day don’t succeed. Of course, do not reward every practice a session. The classic studies on conditioning teach us that intermittent reinforcement is best.

7. Make this new skill a habit. Incorporate this skill into your everyday routine.

Keep eXpanding,


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