How to be a Great Leader – Deliberate Practice Makes Perfect

BY Kathy Crosett
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If you’ve been promoted into a management position, and you feel like a fraud, it might be because you fear you aren’t ready, or that nobody will take direction from little old you. All your life you’ve probably been hearing about natural-​born athletes, musicians or speakers. Where does that leave you, if you’re not a natural-​born anything? In a better position than you might expect, according to psychologists.

In recent years, Malcom Gladwell made headlines with his claim that 10,000 hours of practice will lead to success in any endeavor. His claim has been discredited by some researchers who reviewed the original German study on student violinists and pointed out the huge difference between practice and deliberate practice. By deliberately practicing the specific management skills you want to improve on, you can become a better leader. As Marcel Schwantes describes in his Inc​.com column, only about 1/​3 of leadership skill is innate. The rest is learned, i.e. practiced.

Schwantes also lists several leadership behaviors that endear managers to their team members. If you want your team to excel, consider practicing some of the following traits.


When employees come to you with a problem, they need help. They are relying on you to make a decision. Once made, they can set their own direction and finish their task. Often, leaders waver, or they change their minds an hour after they make an initial decision. Imagine how frustrating this is for your employees after they’ve started working on the original plan you gave them. If this is how you operate, it’s time to make a change. Nobody says you have to make a decision on the spot. If you’re unsure of the possible solutions when you first hear of an issue, promise the employee you’ll look into it and then get back to her quickly.


Nobody wants to revert to the worst time in her life, which was probably middle school. That’s when the clique mentality runs rampant, and people are ridiculed for being different. Cliquey behavior in the workplace survives when managers exhibit unfair behavior. As a manager, practice complimenting each person on your team for what he or she has done. If you take one person to lunch during a one-​on-​one, do the same for everyone else in your department.


Your team members won’t just come to you with problems. They’ll also want to talk with you about ideas and suggestions for new products or services. New employees may come on board with fresh concepts for how to accomplish tasks. One of your jobs, as manager, is to listen to what they are saying. Practice active listening – with the understanding that you need to help this person and the team succeed. Their success should come before your success.

If you’re having trouble honing these and the other ‘soft’ skills Schwantes mentions, sign up for leadership training. After enough practice and training, you’ll see improvement and your team members will appreciate and respect your efforts.