Archive for the ‘Performance’ Category

Practice Makes Performance

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The old saying, “practice makes perfect” is not completely accurate. In fact, only perfect practice makes perfect, because the more you practice making mistakes, the better you get at making them.

Princeton University tennis coach, Glenn Michibata said, “I tell my players they have to practice two hours a day to stay the same, and more if they want to get better.” Of course, he’s talking about elite level players. But even for a recreational player, less than two hours, three days a week and one is barely going to maintain a level of performance. He or she will likely not improve with that little practice.

I started thinking about how that applies to the workplace. How often does a manager or leader practice management or leadership skills? How often does a worker practice the skills they need? Some would reply that they’re doing that every minute of the day, and with most putting in over eight hours a day, that’s a lot of practice.

But it’s not practicing the way Michibata’s tennis players do.

Remember, practice does not make perfect – only perfect practice makes perfect. How much of that eight hours is spent practicing the right skills, and how much the wrong ones?

Sticking to the tennis example, do you think that when Michibata’s players practice for two hours, they’re practicing by playing a match? They’re not. Instead, they’re using deliberate practice strategies: They hit serves, then forehands, backhands, volleys, overheads, and then practice footwork. They do drills. In fact, playing a match is a rarity. Why? Because focusing on separate skills allows a player to practice perfectly. And more efficiently.

So, in the workplace, what if managers and leaders or anyone else practiced specific skills, just like tennis players do?

For example:

  • As a leader, one needs to listen, so why not practice listening? Prior to walking into a meeting, remind yourself to focus on listening. Then listen.
  • Practice making decisions – look for opportunities to make decisions in all walks of life. When people ask, “Where do you want to eat?” make the decision.
  • As a manager, one needs to think both tactically and strategically, so why not practice that? When faced with a project, take time to think tactically for a while, and then switch and look at what’s best from a long-term strategic basis.
  • When writing a memo or email, take just a few extra minutes to consider whether you can make it more clear. Practice communicating through writing.
  • As an employee, pick one skill that if you could improve it, would make you a superstar, and focus on practicing it.

    With just a little focused, specific, deliberate practice, your performance could take you to an all-new level. And who knows what impact that would have on your professional and personal life.

    A-Rod’s Record Lesson

    Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

    Thank you, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. You hit home (excuse the pun) the impact that focusing on results has on one’s performance.

    Daniel Gilbert, in an August 4th article in the New York Times, wrote about Rodriguez’ challenge as he tried to hit his 600th homer.

    “Rodriguez hit his 599th home run on July 22, bringing himself and his fans to the brink of celebration. And then, for 12 long days, he not only failed to drive the ball out of the park and into the history books, he also went hitless for 17 consecutive at-bats. This wasn’t the first time Rodriguez has stood at the precipice, and then stood there some more: after hitting his 499th home run in 2007, he came to the plate an excruciating 28 times before finally hitting his 500th.

    “What made all this so frustrating for New Yorkers… was that everyone felt certain that Rodriguez would have slammed several homers in the past two weeks if only they hadn’t mattered so much. Watching him struggle to break the numerical barrier was like watching a man frozen with fear on the last step of a tall ladder: we knew, and he knew, that the last step was exactly the same as all the steps before it — so why couldn’t he just take it?

    “One of the ironies of human psychology is that desperately wanting something can make attaining that thing all the more difficult. When stakes go up, performance often goes down. In one study, subjects practiced sinking a putt and got better as they went along — better, that is, until the experimenter offered them a cash reward for their next shot, at which point their performance took a nosedive.

    “Golfers in another study were told either to take their time and think about their stroke or to step up and swing as quickly as possible. Although novice golfers did better when they took their time, expert golfers did worse.”

    It seems almost counter-intuitive that the harder we try, the worse we get; the less we try, the better we perform. At least that’s the way it works with things we’ve done many times, things that we’re “good at.” If it’s a brand new task, then intense focus can help. But once the task has become mostly-automatic, the less thought we put in the way, the better.

    Gilbert went on: “When Rodriguez stepped to the plate in recent days, he may not have heard the roar of the crowd as much as the sound of a record book opening and a pencil being sharpened. The more important his next homer became, the more he probably thought about how to hit it. The more he thought, the less he hit; the less he hit, the more he thought, and the cycle spun on

    “Until Wednesday, that is, when Rodriguez finally hit his 600th home run. Forty-six agonizing at-bats separated that homer from the one before it, but the moment the ball sailed over the center field fence, Yankee fans knew that a great burden had been lifted, a great slugger had been liberated, and that a great bat would once again be free to find the ball — naturally, effortlessly, and in its own sweet time.”

    What records are you facing? What record-breaking barriers are you putting in front of others? In what areas of your life can you shut your brain off and just trust your well-seasoned swing to take over again?

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    People Skills, Schmeople Skills. Who Needs ‘Em?

    Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

    While looking through a university continuing education course catalog, it hit me. Wow, look at all those technical skill-building courses! And yet, very few courses focused on what really makes a difference in business: people skills.

    I then came across this:

    “The Stanford Research Institute, Harvard University, and the Carnegie Foundation once spent over one million dollars and five years of research studying why some people succeed. After the study was concluded, it was determined that 15% of the reason a person is able to get a job, keep a job, and move ahead in that job, is determined by his or her technical skills and knowledge, regardless of the profession. The other 85% of the reason a person is able to get a job, keep that job, and move ahead in that job, is directly related to people skills. It soon becomes apparent that working with people and managing people, starting with ourselves, must be a high priority if we are going to be successful.”

    If that’s the case, why is so much training devoted to technical skill-building, and so little to people skills?

    Of course, this doesn’t just apply to training. Given the choice between developing a system or developing a relationship, perhaps it’s the latter one should focus on.

    I’ve heard it said that ninety percent of success in business is due to good communication. I would bet it’s the thing that is on most people’s “least favorite things to deal with” list. That’s certainly my conclusion based on the number of issues, problems and challenges that I’ve seen that could be resolved with more effective communication… but isn’t.

    What is communication? Would you agree that it seems many people think that the definition of communication is “talking”? But we all know communication is as much about listening as anything else.

    I once had a coaching client who faced a situation where groups of people were not working well together. We discussed ways to make things better and came to the conclusion that more communication was needed, so I asked how she was going to deal with it. Her reply was, “I’m going to tell them what to do, how to behave, when to do it, everything. Obviously, they can’t figure it out.” When I then asked her whether telling people what to do was the only way of fixing a communication problem, she looked confused. After some coaching she went into a meeting with the two groups, described her expectations (collaborative work through lots of communication), and then asked them to come up with some ideas of how to improve things. She then sat back and simply facilitated the communication. The groups came up with a process, and things began working much better.

    Business is all about the results, the bottom line, and yet it’s only through people that the results happen. It’s only through people that business happens.

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    An Unforgettable Experience

    Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

    The crew have been preparing for nearly four hours now. Every last detail is looked after. The setup reviewed, checked again and again, dozens of measurements taken. They’re ready.

    The “driver,” he gears up. I can sense in him a different level of focus as the time nears. He steps in. The crew know he’s their man. I can sense their absolute confidence in him. He is a “world champion” – one of the very best.

    I’m fortunate to be able to observe this firsthand. I’m right there next to him. But instead of a race car driver, a career I’ve experienced and written about often, this is different. I’m walking into an operating room with one of the best pediatric cardiac surgeons in the world, Dr. Gordon Cohen. We’re in Seattle Children’s Hospital. And he’s about to perform heart surgery.

    I’m in the middle of an experience I’ll never forget. And yet, for Dr. Cohen, it’s another day at the office, one that he’ll experience perhaps eight or ten times… this week! Yeah, to think that there’s a need for Cohen to conduct heart surgery that many times, every single week, is mind boggling. To know that there is that much need… well, I can only be grateful that Cohen and others are there to look after these kids.

    My day began with Cohen’s delightful assistant, Deana, raving about the way he treats people, his incredibly tough work schedule, and the wonderful things the hospital does. I then walked through the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit with Cohen, and heard how they look after babies just minutes old right up to teens, some on something called the Berlin Heart. Essentially, it’s an external heart keeping a kid alive until a transplant is available. The buzz of activity, nurses, doctors, support staff – all moving, discussing, disinfecting their hands every minute it seemed. And working as a team. Huddles, short mini-team discussions being held around the ward, mostly just outside a patient’s room. From my position of an outside observer, I could sense how important these briefings are to the overall performance of the CICU.

    Cohen and a fellow doctor begin an in-depth, and at times heated, discussion about the best way to treat a patient. It reminded me of a conversation between a race driver and his engineer – passionate, determined, and committed to doing whatever it took to convince the other their way of making the car… I mean patient better. It made the doctor-to-doctor discussions on TV shows seem… well, unreal. In fact, I’m not sure the public would buy into the level of determination I saw in Cohen – they would not think someone could care that much. But it was real. They were discussing the life of a real young child.

    After a short stop in Cohen’s office where he handled at least three activities all at once – email, phone calls, answering my dumb questions – we headed for a necessity. Yep, Starbucks. See, from the time Cohen gets to the hospital before 7AM and the time he finishes surgery in the afternoon, he doesn’t get to eat. I couldn’t help but think that a union rep would go crazy looking at Cohen’s daily schedule. A quick bite and a cup of water and he’s off to the OR. Wearing scrubs, hat and mask, I’m right behind him.

    The OR is a buzz of activity. No, buzz makes one think of fast, almost frantic activity, and yet this is all calm, controlled, but busy. Preparations continue. Just like a race car pit crew. And I can tell these are the best of the best, too.

    Earlier, sitting in Cohen’s office and watching the preparations going on in the OR on a screen mounted on the wall, I witnessed a special moment. Just prior to putting the patient asleep, the anesthesiologist leaned in towards the patient’s face just a little, and very gently stroked her face. It was a touching moment in more ways that one. I knew the patient was going to be okay; just before going asleep, the patient knew that “everything is going to okay.”

    Throughout the three-and-a-half hour operation, there were between seven and ten people in the room. One or two anesthesiologists at all times, one or two people running the external heart and ventilator machine (for some time during the surgery, this machine is the patient’s heart), a couple of people looking at some type of ultrasound-looking screen, nurses, a scrub nurse and Cohen’s surgical partner.

    Observing all these people, a couple of thoughts came to mind. First, this is just like a race team, where the driver is nothing without his or her team supporting them. And second, while they moved and acted in a way that made me know they knew what they were doing, it wasn’t in a “Oh, I’ve done this a thousand times before” kinda way. It was confident, but focused. I could see how some of the activity could become routine and almost mindless, and yet there seemed to be a process that focused them on the task.

    An anesthesiologist was using an iPad, so I moved in closer to find why. She uses it as a teaching tool for the fellow working with her: sketching diagrams of what’s going on and then emailing them to her right there on the spot; and looking up articles relevant to the specific case they were working on.

    Teamwork was obvious throughout the OR, but especially visible between Cohen, his surgical partner, and the scrub nurse.

    In fact, if I didn’t know better I’d have thought there were times when Cohen wasn’t sure what to do next, until the scrub nurse handed him his next instrument. She knew what was coming next, she knew the surgery as well as anyone. There were times when Cohen would practically drop an instrument to the side, his hand would begin to rise, and before it got near the opening of the child’s chest, there magically appeared another instrument in his hand – the perfect one for the next task.

    The choreography between Cohen and his surgical partner was like watching a mini version of Cirque du Soliel. Four hands working inside the chest of child, one picking up where the other left off, team cutting and sewing, holding, feeling, prodding, like catching the other in mid-air from the trapeze.

    I saw another sign of a great, high-performing team: in the middle of the surgery, during a time of some stress over some heart recovery issue, the team joked and kidded, taking fun jabs at each other. But it was serious at the same time. It was the kind of humor that I’ve seen in other high-pressure, stressful situations where team members will help each other relax. As the stress level rose, so did the joking; when the stress level came down, less joking. It was serious fun that comes with a great team.

    It was evident to me that amongst team, there was a strong respect for each other and what they contribute, and immense trust in each other’s role. They demonstrated that respect and trust are the backbones of a great team.

    For me personally, though, to be standing a few feet from an open chest, a living, pumping, moving, red heart, was simply something I’ve not been able to get out of my head since that time a couple of weeks ago. There are so many different ways to describe the feeling of seeing a heart so close-up: It’s so mechanical – just a pump; it’s what keeps us alive, and yet here was a surgeon cutting and sewing it; it needed such a subtle, sensitive and delicate touch to repair it, but how incredible it was that it can recover from this trauma.

    That last point made an strong impression on me: how the human body can recover, repair itself, heal after what seemed at moments to be almost brutal work on it made me once again marvel at what we as humans are capable of. Yes, Cohen has a delicate touch and feel for what he’s doing. But at moments during the surgery, one could almost describe it as forceful.

    I’ve been fortunate in my life to observe super high performers up close and personal. I’ve driven an Indy car inches away from World Champions at 230 MPH. I’ve observed and listened to one of the great pianists in the world from fifteen feet away from. I even had Gordie Howe pass a puck to me right in front of the net. And it’s much different to observe a performance at this level from this close up – different than watching from the stands or on TV. You can see the subtleties that make these people what they are: superstars. One doesn’t get to be that close to that level of performance very often in life.

    One of the things that makes Cohen special is his ability to interact with others. He knows that he can only perform at the level he does if he has the support of other people, and that they will perform better if he treats them as humans. And yet, because I’ve seen it so often with race drivers, and experienced it myself, I could see Cohen change the closer we got to surgery time. He became just a little more intense, a little more focused.

    And yet, he thinks it’s nothing. What Cohen does has become so matter of fact that he doesn’t think he’s anything special. Oh, he’s confident. Supremely confident. But not cocky. No out of control ego here. Just a strong inner belief in his abilities. Just like a world champion race driver, an Olympic athlete, a superstar musician. Not like Dr. House on TV!

    Cohen is like a world champion race driver. His team prepares everything, he comes in and performs at a level that very few people in the world can, and then leaves his team to clean up afterward. And yet he knows – everyone knows – that no one could do this alone.

    The similarities between Cohen and a race driver, his team and a race team, are many. But there is one huge, and critical, difference: They’re saving lives.

    Thank you Dr. Cohen, for an experience I’ll never forget; for doing what you do and doing it with humility, calmness, and confidence; for building a team and support system that provides the very best care for children. Thank you Seattle Children’s Hospital. I wish we didn’t need you, but I’m glad you’re there.

    (Just in case you’re wondering…;

    Multitasking Your Way To Mediocrity

    Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

    Would you rather be good at many things, or the best at one thing? A generalist, or a specialist? Consider this: Specialists make the most headlines, the most money, the most difference in the world. Trying to be good at everything usually results in being mediocre.

    For many years, all-season car tires were a perfect example of this: okay on dry pavement, okay in the rain, okay in snow, okay on ice; but not great at anything. They were a good compromise.

    Some employees and teammates are like this. They’re good at many things, but not great at any one thing. Some would say that’s good, as a company and team needs people who just get things done.

    But what if? What if a company had no employees who were just okay at things, but had an entire team of people who were specialists, who were superstars in their own area of expertise?

    Some would say that’s utopian thinking and too idealistic. Is it? And even if it is a little idealistic, is it possible for a company to be made up of people who are great at what they do; people who are so confident and appreciated for what they contribute that they don’t bother trying to be more than what they are? In other words, they’re comfortable being the best at one simple thing. They have no need to try to impress others with all of things they know and can do. (This is a key point: Often, the reason people try to be good at everything is because they don’t receive enough recognition for what they’re really good at).

    But, “What about sports teams made up of superstars, who under-perform as a team?”, you ask. All-star and some Olympic teams come to mind, right? I’m not suggesting that these superstars don’t need to work together as a team. In fact, as proven by some Olympic and All-star teams, teamwork is a must for peak performance. Lack of teamwork can rarely be made up for by a group of superstars.

    The difference between the aforementioned superstar teams  and what I’m talking about is teamwork. Just because you have a group of superstars, doesn’t mean that they can’t work together as a team. In fact, if you have people who are great in their specific area, they complement each other, and build a stronger team (especially if each team member is appreciated and acknowledged for their contribution).

    What often hurts teams is the lack of specialists. A team of good players, all trying to do a good job in the same area, will rarely be a strong team. And they’ll step on one another. Great teams have specialists in each critical area, and these specialists are comfortable knowing they’re doing their job, are respected and appreciated for it, and trust others on the team to do what they specialize in.

    As Calvin Newport, author of How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out, says, “Being the best in a field makes you disproportionately impressive to the outside world. This effect holds even if the field is not crowded, competitive, or well-known… Employers don’t mind upsetting hard workers, but they fear losing stars.”

    Focus on being the best in one area, being a specialist, being a superstar performer.

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    It’s Your Choice

    Thursday, August 5th, 2010

    “What’s the matter with that jerk?! I send her a polite email and she gets all wound up – now she’s pissed off with me. I’m the one who should be pissed off – with her.”

    Ever felt that way? If not, know anyone who has?

    Who’s right and who’s wrong?

    You take the time to write out a very well-intended email outlining the position your department is taking on the development of a new product. You keep it focused on the facts, and make sure there are no personal jabs enclosed in the wording. You read it over three times, go to press Send, then think you should read it over one more time, make a couple of very minor changes to make sure your intentions are clear, and then finally hit Send.

    An hour later a reply lands in your Inbox that makes you flush and begin to sweat. What? Why would Debbie take what I said that way? It wasn’t aimed at her personally, nor were there any intentions of upsetting her. But here she is almost threatening me in her reply. What a jerk!

    In practically any situation, we have a choice about how to respond. Faced with any situation, we have at least two ways to respond: We can react and read into the situation the very worst, or we can assume the best.

    Even faced with an email, or a comment that seems very negative, accusatory, and provoking, you can choose to look at it as it seems. Or, you can look at it from the opposite side, looking for a positive intent hidden in the language. How often do you think people intentionally say things to annoy, frustrate, anger, insult, accuse, or any other negative thing? I suspect most people would answer that question by saying that it’s the exception rather than the rule that someone goes out of their way to do nasty things to you. And yet, our usual, our natural, and the reaction we jump to most easily and quickly is one of taking it in the worst way possible.

    The next time someone says something to you that you immediately begin to react to in a negative way, stop. Just stop for a moment. Step back and think about the intent of the message. Look for a possible angle that you’re missing – an angle that is not meant to be negative. If you can’t find it, assume that it’s there – somewhere. Then ask the other person about it. Ask them what the intent was, staying open to the possibility that the message was meant to be positive and productive.

    You have a choice about how you respond to any situation or message. Make the choice that the situation or message was meant in a positive and productive way.

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    More of What’s Working Means Less of What’s Not

    Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

    If one does enough of the right stuff, you won’t have time to do the wrong stuff.

    Improving performance may just be a matter of focusing more on what’s working, and less on what’s not working.

    Bright spots.” That’s what Chip and Dan Heath call them in their book, Switch. They write about the approach Save The Children used to help mothers in Vietnam provide better nutrition to their children by learning from the few that were doing it best, about a solutions-focused therapist helping “problem” kids in schools by helping them focus on what they did well, and about a company that focused on what was working in drug sales to help market their products.

    Psychologist Martin Seligman calls the approach of focusing on what’s working with peak performers, rather than on what’s not working with people with problems, “Positive Psychology.” He’s written extensively about the topic in Learned Optimism, Authentic Happiness, and other books.

    Shawn Achor talks about focusing on what makes people successful in his brief book, Bringing the Science of Positive Psychology to Life. Watch and listen to Achor talk about this in this fantastic video.

    Marcus Buckingham recommends focusing on what’s working in his book, Now Discover Your Strengths when he says mangers should focus more on employees’ strengths than on fixing their weaknesses. And so should you, he says.

    So, what do most business leaders, team leaders and coaches focus on? What’s not working. They focus on fixing the problems. They spend most of their time and effort working on the problems.

    Would a person, a team, or a business be further ahead if they focused on replicating what was working, rather than on fixing the things that were not working? It seems obvious that if you or I simply did a lot more of what’s working, we may not even have time to do what needs fixing. We’ll be so busy doing all the right things that we won’t have time to do the wrong things.

    If you want to help someone else, tell them what they’re doing right. Give them confirming feedback. People tend to do more of what they are rewarded for, so reward someone with feedback about what they’re doing well. They will do more of that.

    Take a few minutes right now and make a list of all the things you’re doing right. Come on, do it. If you don’t write them down, this won’t really work, so go ahead and start making a list. And don’t be too modest, but be honest. Pretend you’re someone else, like your manager, your coach, or a friend, and ask yourself what you’re doing right. What would they say? Write it down.

    Now, just do more of those things. This may be the simplest way to enhance your performance.

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    Little Problems Turn Into Big Problems

    Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

    I recently drove a race car in the Le Mans Classic race and experienced something that is common in a variety of settings, from sport to business. And that is, leaving little problems unattended and allowing them to turn into big problems.

    I’ve experienced this same thing in business. What seems like a minor issue, left alone and allowed to fester, turns into a big issue – things snowball out of control.

    For example, every business has its values and cultures. Often, one person can have a big impact on a company’s culture… and that one person can often be the “little issue.” On its own, one person that doesn’t fit the company’s values and culture doesn’t seem to be a problem. On the surface, it’s not a problem. But over time, left unattended, this small issue will eat away at a company’s culture and values, until one day the leaders of the company step back and think, What happened?

    That’s what happened in France, at Le Mans. The team owner thought that a “minor” mechanical issue would be okay without doing a fairly major repair. He felt that, left alone, it wouldn’t cause a problem. Instead, that minor issue led to a problem with another part in the car, which caused my co-driver to pull off the track, which caused the track safety crew to move the car, which lead to another problem… And it kept snowballing until we dropped out of the race.

    Some people said we were unlucky. It had nothing to do with luck. It had to do with ignoring a small problem. In my experience, just about every example of bad luck can be traced back to a real cause. This was a good example of that. Or should I say, a bad example, because it should never have happened.

    I’m not saying that every little issue needs to be made into a huge deal, but letting it go totally unattended could just be that cause of a major problem or issue in the near future.

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    What Motivates You May Not Motivate Me

    Thursday, July 8th, 2010

    Motivation is personal: What motivates me may not motivate you. Well, duh!

    Let’s use a company’s sales staff as an example. Put yourself in a sales manager’s shoes.

    What motivates your sales staff? Is it money? Some will say all good sales people are motivated by money, and that’s why commission works. But does it? I’ve talked with some extremely successful sales people who say that once they have their basic needs covered, more money isn’t the motivation. It’s the challenge, the knowledge that they’re doing something special, that they’re contributing to something bigger than just them, that they’re connecting with people… that’s what motivates them. And that falls directly inline with what Daniel Pink wrote about in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He refers to what motivates today’s workforce as Motivation 3.0.

    Instead of looking at your sales staff and pointing the finger at their lack of success, look in the mirror and ask, “Am I doing everything I can to make my sales people successful? Am I doing what’s necessary to motivate my staff?”

    In a discussion about compensation plans, commissions, perks, bonuses, and all sorts of other incentives and so-called motivators, a manager I was talking to recently suggested a bonus of a trip to Hawaii for the leading sales person. I then asked, “Would that motivate all your staff?” He looked at me with a face that said, “Well, why not?”

    What motivates you may not motivate your sales staff. For example, what if the leading sales person – the one that won the trip to Hawaii – hates to travel. In fact, she is terrified of flying. What if? So, while a trip to some exotic destination may be a motivator to you, it may not be to someone else. Personally, I find it hard to imagine someone not wanting to go to Hawaii, but it could happen. In fact, I’ve met people who think a trip like that would be painful.

    How can you motivate someone if you don’t know what drives them? Using a blanket approach to this – using the same method to motivate all people – does not work.

    The top three things that a great manager of people does is provide clear expectations, provide lots of feedback, and develops a personal connection with her people. As part of the latter, a great manager should learn about what motivates her staff.

    If I walked up to you right now and asked, “What motivates each member of your staff?” how would you respond? Could you give me a solid answer?

    This doesn’t apply just to people that report to you. It works for everyone whom you want to help perform better. It can apply to your boss, your co-workers, teammates, peers. Do you know what motivates your boss?

    How do you determine what motivates someone? Well, you could ask them! As part of the process of developing a good working relationship, perhaps a discussion about what motivates you both is a great place to start. Understanding that what motivates you may not motivate me or anyone else, and then determining what does motivate people, will lead to better performance.

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    Who Wants To Be A Superstar?

    Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

    I have point to make: I could take just about anyone and turn them into a superstar. And just to be clear, it’s not just me that could do it. You could, too. Laszlo Polgar proved it by developing three sisters into the greatest women chess players of all time.

    I’m tired of hearing about athletes, musicians, artists, and business people who were apparently born with some special talent. I’m here to say it doesn’t work like that. High performers were not born that way. They developed into high performers.

    Study after study in recent years, especially a series of them by Anders Ericsson, have shown that high performers in a variety of activities developed their talent through very focused, deliberate, hard work. Practice leads to talent; birth doesn’t.

    From Mozart to Michael Jordan, from Steve Jobs to Roger Federer, the key to high performance was and is not what one is born with, but what one does with what they’re born with.

    But it’s not just practice. It’s strategic practice that makes the difference. In a study of violinists, what separated the average from the great is that the latter practiced more. As much as eight times as much, in fact. The surprising finding of the study is what separated the greats from those who are even better – the superstars. The super-high performers practiced no more than the greats. But it was the quality of the practice that made the difference. The superstars practiced the real challenging, difficult, unpleasant stuff, and they were more strategic in how they practiced.

    And that’s where I come in. I could take practically anyone, and with the right strategic practice, could turn that person into a high performer. My job is developing the right practice strategy.

    The next time someone talks about natural talent, stop them. Why? Because by labeling someone as having talent, you insult them. You may even encourage the person to practice less. After all, if the person was born with natural talent, they don’t need to practice.

    Instead of complimenting a person on their natural talent, compliment them on all the hard, strategic work they put into developing their skills.

    High performance has more to do with the skills and talent one develops through hard work and strategic practice. And that’s why you or I could take just about anyone and turn them into a superstar. It’s all about creating the right development plan.

    This also means that you’re capable of superstar performance – if you’re not quite there already.

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