It takes practice

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What is "it"?'s anything. There's simply nothing you can expect to be good at without a lot of practice. This holds true in sports, acting, music, writing, and yes - also in business. The difference is that in business we're often not given (or giving) the opportunity to "practice" - everyone is always competing.

This is a huge problem.

Practice is where you get to make mistakes. Practice is where you push yourself to limits you're not quite sure you can handle. Practice is sometimes successful only when you identify the point where you fail. I'm a huge believer in the theory that we learn more from success than we learn from failure. But I also believe that no one becomes successful without a lot of practice and that sometimes the best practice sessions are filled with mistakes. The key is to keep the mistakes small, contained and to learn from them.

I was a springboard diver from about the age of 7 and continued all the way through my senior year at the University of Iowa. The amount of practice time compared to actual competition time was astronomical. We would practice 6 days a week and 4 hours per day, but we would only have competitions once every couple weeks. When we competed though, we were ready and in top form - because we practiced so much.

In the world of business, this practice to competition ratio is completely flipped.

Rarely are developers, project managers, designers, marketers and a host of others given the opportunity to practice. People are expected to perform at "competition" levels without ever being given the opportunity to push themselves to their professional limits. The result is one of two things: When mistakes are made they're huge with tremendous impact, or talented people find themselves in positions well below their abilities and ultimately become bored from the lack of stimulation.

The other thing that's required to make practice effective though is coaching. Unfortunately, this is something that a lot of managers are either unwilling or unable to do for their people and it's a real shame. Coaching takes knowledge, skill, time, patience and effective communication. How many managers do you know that possess all of what's needed to provide proper coaching? Is it any wonder then that people aren't given the opportunity to practice?

The combination of constant competition along with a managers' inability to coach virtually guarantees most employees aren't going to get practice time. The opening here is for those of us who can coach, and are willing to let our employees push themselves to their limits. We need to recognize that if we've hired people with talent, then we owe it to them to give them practice time.

This means giving them more responsibility than others might be willing to give them. It means knowing ahead of time that some mistakes will be made and being okay with it. Most importantly though, it means being able to take the time to coach them.

How much practice time are you getting? How much coaching are you providing? The answers are more important than most people realize.