Learning something new means being clumsy at it initially, making mistakes, course-correcting, and trying again. It’s uncomfortable. And even when we know the skill is valuable, it often makes our work more difficult at first, causing many leaders to stop trying new things and revert to old habits.
Knowing the importance of practice, how do we build it into our training experiences? And how do we hold ourselves and others accountable for the hard work of practice?
1. Acknowledge the Challenge Be honest about the difficulty of learning something new, especially when you’re in a leadership role. Expect mistakes. Celebrate effort and risk-taking rather than expertise and skill level. Create a culture where leaders are rewarded for trying new things and building new skills, even when their early attempts are less-than-perfect.
2. Limit the Scope Training often includes information on many different behaviors, approaches, skills, and techniques. It isn’t possible to practice and master all of them at one time. Encourage leaders to choose one or two things that have a high potential for enhancing their work, and focus their practice on just those things – at least to start.
3. Commit Time Commit time every week – ideally every day – for practice. Block time on the calendar. Minimize distractions, and work on skill development as seriously as you would on any other project. You might even create a project plan with deadlines and deliverables.
4. Leverage Tools and Materials in the Program Most training programs include opportunities for practice – action learning projects, individual action planning guides, cases, role plays, etc. Use them as much as you can – individually or in study groups or with partners. These can be extremely helpful for practice, even outside of the program.
5. Create Practice Partnerships Work with colleagues to hold each other accountable for practice. Practice partnerships are also a great way to get feedback on your development.
6. Consider Coaching Sometimes leaders need more support than can be offered by practice partners. In these cases, a coach can be extremely useful. Coaching may be available through HR or L&D, or you may decide to invest in coaching on your own. A good coach will help you create a plan, offer feedback, and help you stay accountable to your own goals.
Making a commitment to practice is essential to maximize the impact of training. After all, practice is the only way to become proficient in a new skill or behavior. As leaders, we need to embrace the discomfort of being beginners in order to continue to grow and improve.
What new skill should you be practicing?