Last year 641 people tried to climb Mount Everest; five never came back. Those frightening odds keep most of us firmly planted at lower elevations; however, consider how many times the average guide (Sherpa) leads teams up and down the mountain. Despite making so many more trips, fewer Sherpas have died when compared with Westerners. Why are their chances of survival so much better?
The answer to that question is this:
They have practiced so much that they are masters at their craft.
Psychologist Bruce Burns of Michigan State University decided to find out if he could find the answer to the long debated-question: How long does it take to achieve mastery? To find an answer to his research, he focused on a personal passion of his: chess.
Burn’s research suggests that it’s not just because a champion is naturally gifted at the game. Instead, Grand Chess Masters achieve a heightened skill level because they do something that most of us stopped doing after childhood. They practice—a lot. Daily.
- How could this help us become masters of managing people?
- We remember that leadership to requires practice.
It’s just as important for you as it is for a child and their piano lessons, or a Grand Chess Master, or an elite athlete.
In Burn’s research, top players recognized patterns on the chessboard almost instantly, because they had seen those patterns so often in past games. And in most cases, their reacting moves were the right decisions. Just like a Sherpa on Everest can better recognize dangerous crevices and weather patterns emerging, or a seasoned musician senses the next stanza when sight-reading a piece of music, or a skilled parent knows when a temper tantrum is brewing, the research shows that pattern recognition is advanced through consistent and daily practice.
After his research, Burns concluded,
“Superior skill may be acquired predominantly through practice rather than be the product of some general ability or talent.”
In managing a team, you might think you don’t have the time for a lot of practice. The truth is, in just a few minutes a day you can develop the skills used by the very best leaders. Great managers set and communicate a clear vision with their team, they communicate transparently and pull the best ideas out of their people, they talk monthly with their direct reports about their career development, and they recognize great achievements every day. That’s a manager’s practice. Pretty soon it becomes second nature.