K. Anders Ericsson has been doing research on expertise (read mastery) for 20 years. What he has discovered has been rewritten by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers and Tony Coyle in The Talent Code. He found that talent is not as much genetic as it is hours of practice, 10,000 hours of practice, specifically deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is a highly structured activity engaged in with the specific goal of improving performance. It is intentional practice. It is practicing what is hard to do with the intention of becoming better. Passion helps, purpose helps, feedback helps but the key is the practice.
We have heard the athletic stories of muscle and skill being built only when we practice with the correct form. We all know how much Olympic athletes need to practice to get to the Olympics. We have the heard the stories of other athletes like Larry Bird or Michael Jordan practicing from the time they were children. Yet somehow we expect to become good at our job or exceptional leaders without spending much time intentionally practicing. We practice our bad habits constantly so to change we need to be very intentional.
So what can leaders practice to be better leaders aside from public speaking, running efficient meetings, making difficult decisions and problem solving? What about mastering the complexity of influencing others, having executive presence, developing empathy, having grace under pressure, leading in uncertain times? All of these skills come from the body – not so much the trained body but the subtleties of the body, the wholeness of the self.
Meditation builds some of these skills. Being mindful throughout the day gives the opportunity to calibrate and change when needed. Certain movements build the subtle strengths. This is an area – embodied leadership – we just beginning to explore within physical science and brain science.