Last night I was fortunate enough to be eating in a restaurant in a ski resort in France overlooking an ice rink. For all the time that I was eating, an ice skater was practising a wide range of manoeuvres. I suspect on balance that I probably consumed as many calories during that hour as she lost. However, that was not my main conclusion for the evening. I was fascinated by the dedication that she showed to practising her art. To my untrained eye, she appeared to be executing each step flawlessly; I didn’t see her stumble or fall at all in that time. And yet although the sun had gone down, and it had begun to get cold, the skater continued to work through her routine.
I have no idea how she would fare on the international stage, although I did create a story, in the way that you do when you are watching strangers who you will never interact with, in which she was indeed a budding star. In the story her work would continue until the Winter Olympics of 2014 in Sochi, when she would finally get the chance to go on stage and demonstrate the perfection this discipline would surely lead to.
I started to think about the parallels with the leaders that we work with. They are expected to be on stage every day and yet how often do they get the chance to practise their craft? Leaders move jobs or they get promoted for the first time, and we expect them to be perfect from day one. Some of them will have been fortunate enough to go through some form of training in preparation for this new role, although far too often, they are expected to have learnt by osmosis. In any event, there are very few occasions when we give them the time to practise before they set out on their journey.
So what options are open to us here? Although I didn’t see a coach working with the skater, I am sure she would have had one and was practising ideas that she had discussed with her coach. In the same way, the leaders that we work with should be inspired to try out new things that will support them, their teams and their organisations. As coaches, we work with our leaders to create those opportunities to build the skills and behaviours they need.
We should also bear in mind those opportunities that come outside of the workplace. The leaders that we work with have opportunities in their communities to refine and hone new skills that they can then apply back in the workplace. That might be through volunteering, organising, speaking – whatever inspires them and can also enable them to learn and grow.
Leaders can build their emotional intelligence in their relationships outside of work and bring that learning back. The emotionally intelligent person will, for example, check in with their partners in times of stress to ask the question “what do you need from me right now?” The same phrase can be used to good effect with their teams.
I’d be fascinated to hear your ideas on how we can give leaders the time and space to practise their craft.