Perfect Practice Is The Key To Career Advancement

Daniel Gonzalez via Unsplash

I used to be an avid golfer and I set about figuring out how good I could become.  I started by hitting lots of golf balls at the range, on the basis that more practice would make me better.  It turns out that more practice doesn’t necessarily make you better.  It depends what you practice.  If I practiced bad habits, I definitely wouldn’t get better, in fact I may get worse.  A leading golf instructor summarized it well, ‘Perfect practice makes perfect’.

Perfect practice makes perfect

The same is true in leadership development.  If we aren’t intentional about what we practice, it is foolish to assume we are getting better.  It is pretty easy to tell which of my clients will achieve breakthrough results.  It is the ones who have an intentional development plan and work at it, gathering feedback as they go.

Four elements of an effective development plan

Perfect practice starts with an effective development plan.  Over the years, I have settled on one with the following elements:

  • A clear goal.  It cannot be ambiguous and the more simple the better.
  • The ‘Why’.  Why is the goal important to you?  What happens if you achieve it?  What happens if you don’t?  The more meaningful, the more likely you will maintain your commitment.
  • Specific outcomes.  How will you measure progress towards your goal?  If we don’t have mileposts, it is hard to know if we are still on the right path.  We also need to know if what we are practicing is working.  If it isn’t, we need to stop and try something else.  These measures do not have to be quantitative.  Qualitative feedback from peers is often the most important measure of progress.
  • Actions.  Of course, no progress will be made without taking action.  I advocate for less is more.  Pick no more than 2-3 actions per goal and focus.  Assess whether they are working for and if not, change them.  I used to rigidly focus on completing all actions regardless of progress.  Don’t bother, it is a fool’s errand.

If you don’t have a formal personal development plan or have let it lapse, I encourage you to commit to one.  That is, of course, if you want to get better.  Some people are content to stay where they are.

You have to do the work.  Start with small steps and gradually build new habits.  Less is more.  To help you get started, download my standard personal development template below.