Top Performers Are Made Not Born

Organizations strive for a cast of top performers and really, can you blame them? Top performers work toward a common goal for their company, and they do so effectively and efficiently with little or no direction.  We all have known and seen one of these “top performers” in action. Maybe you were in awe of their skills and abilities or maybe you questioned if they were born to be great. Well, which is it – are top performers made or are they just born that way?

According to research by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, top performers acquire their superior performance through extended deliberate practice, meaning that top performers are made, not born. If top performers are made and not born, how does it happen, and how can you help your employees become the elusive top performer?

The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born. – Warren G. Bennis

How it happens: practice, practice, and yes, even more practice

Deliberate practice drives performance.

Playing sports, a musical instrument, learning a second language, practice is something that we all can relate to. I was a collegiate athlete and I know first hand that the deliberate practice we did really did drive our performance as a team each week.  Ever heard a coach say after a game that the loss was due to a lack of concentration and effort in practice that week?  Same thing goes in the workplace.  Deliberate practice is critical in developing our skills for performing at our peak level. Deliberate practice involves focus and concentration, setting goals about the process of reaching the desired outcome, and self-observation. It is something that needs to be continuous and happen day after day.

Sadly though, very few work environments allow employees to systematically improve their performance this way.

How Managers can help: provide opportunities to deliberately practice daily

Providing employees with opportunities to develop and perfect their skills through repetition and practice allows them to move into their next performance level; shifting the bell curve of “average” to “top performing” employees.

Here are a few simple steps to help provide your people with opportunities to deliberately practice and live up to the standards you believe in:

  • Set and clearly communicate single acts of planning, execution, and evaluation
  • Place goals in a common vehicle, in a common place, to track and monitor on a daily basis
  • Continuously evolve goals to move with the organization

In addition to being aware of your performance as you are practicing, you need to look back on it once you are done and determine where you stand with respect to your overall goals. What might you change to ensure ongoing progress? With proper guidance your average employee can develop into a highly effective top performer.

Think about your organization – do you provide your employees with an opportunity to practice the skills necessary to perform their job correctly on a daily basis?  If not, it’s time to re-think your approach and help move your average performers to top performers – your bottom line is at stake.

Kimberly Kelsey, Marketing Manager, Red Book Solutions

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3 responses to “Top Performers Are Made Not Born

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