Tag Archives: skill

Improving Your Swing


Major James Nesmeth was a golfer.  Not a very good one, mind you.  He shot in the high 90s, which would categorize him as “a hacker” in clubhouse terms.  He stopped playing for seven years, but even without picking up a club, his game somehow improved.  In fact, it didn’t improve just a little.  It improved by an incredible 20 strokes!  During his first game after the seven-year break, he shot a 74!

What makes the story even more remarkable is that Major Nesmeth spent that seven-year break as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.  Shot down over the China Sea on February 3, 1966, he was captured and imprisoned in a 6 ft x 9 ft cement cell.  To prevent himself from losing his mind, he imagined each day that he was playing golf at his favorite course.  In intricate detail, he mentally replayed the familiar scenes hundreds of times – going to the closet to get out his golf bag and shoes, cleaning his shoes in preparation for the day, paying the greens fees, smelling the clean-cut grass, choosing his club, setting his stance, checking his grip, swinging his club, watching the ball as if sailed through the air, walking the course, making the putt…over and over again.

In his mind, Major Nesmeth played every hole perfectly.  He never shot worse than par for seven years.  He imagined every detail, every smell, every sound, every sight.  When he was finally released seven years later, his body responded to the memorized routine.  His body achieved what his mind had rehearsed.

The technique Major Nesmeth used is called visualization, and it’s a powerful tool for reaching your goals.  Visualizing yourself being successful helps to rewrite the scripts in your brain that dictate your self-image.  Your self-image is a powerful force that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in many areas of your life.  When people who have a low self-image experience success, they find it hard to believe.  It doesn’t match their mental scripts.  As a result, they often sabotage their success to retreat back to the comfort of what they believe to be true.

Even if you have a positive self-image overall, there are areas in your life where your confidence is low.  By visualizing yourself doing well in these areas, you can start to redefine your self-limiting beliefs.  The more detailed your visualization, the more powerful it is to your subconscious mind.  It takes practice, but it pays big dividends.

Give it a try in any area where you are experiencing performance that’s, let’s say…..sub par.

(Story Sources – Unknown author, “18 Holes in His Mind.”  Published by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen in A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul.  Also – Excellence in Leadership by Richard Tosti)

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The Competence Cycle


As team members learn how to do new tasks, they will go through four predictable stages related to their confidence and competence.  The leader’s role is to help them progress through the four stages without damaging their self-confidence or causing too much risk to the team or organization.

Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence At this stage, the performer has little concept of what the task is actually going to entail.  She is incredibly excited about it and feels enormous confidence that she is up to the task.  The problem is that this confidence is rarely based on reality.  The confidence comes from ignorance of the skills, knowledge and hard work necessary to complete the task.  Often, performers feel that success in previous endeavors will guarantee success in this one.  Sometimes they are right, but most often they are not.  The leader should be very specific with a performer at this stage.  It’s important to tell her exactly what, when, where and how a task should be done.  Make expectations crystal clear, and supervise progress closely. Think about the last time you took up a new sport.  I’ll use golf as an example.  You watched it on TV, saw the pros do their thing and thought, “Hey, I can do that!  How hard could it be to hit a ball with a stick?”  So, you go out to a golf course and mortgage your house to play 18.  (You didn’t know it was going to be so expensive!)  You head to the first hole and watch the party in front of you.  Looks easy enough.  Your turn.  You set your tee, work a little bit to get the ball to balance on top of it, and then you take a swing!  You strain your eyes to see your first hole-in-one.  Wow!  Those balls are really hard to see…oh… wait.  No, they’re not.  They show up nicely against the green color of the grass.  You take another swing… and another… and another… This is getting embarrassing.  The party behind you is starting to laugh… and then complain.  Now they are getting hostile.  You’ve just entered… Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence This stage is typically a huge letdown for performers.  The high expectations they had have not materialized.  The task is harder, bigger, less glamorous, more work, more expensive…you name it.  They’ve made a big step, though.  Just recognizing that they don’t have the skill set or knowledge for the task is the first step toward getting them.  Now they know what they don’t know.  As long as the performer doesn’t regress to Stage 1 (i.e., go into denial about the skills and knowledge they need), you’ve got them right where you want them.  Now that they know they won’t be the next prodigy, they will typically be much more teachable.  What they need from you is encouragement.  Their confidence has been dealt a blow, and they need to know that this is a normal stage…that all experts were once beginners.  Keep the end result in front of them to motivate them through this stage. Now that you know you aren’t Tiger Woods, you have a few choices.  You can give up – golf must be a hereditary skill that you didn’t get in your gene pool.  Or you can keep plugging (divots, that is).  Get a coach, head to the driving range, practice, practice, practice…  With time, instruction and practice, you’ll reach… Stage 3 – Conscious Competence Progress has been made.  The performer has developed the competence to be able to perform the task.  The problem here is that the performer has to really concentrate on the steps to get it done.  He will typically be hesitant and afraid of making mistakes.  He might over-think the process, leading to avoidable errors and frustration.  Your role as the leader will be to be patient and allow him plenty of practice.  He may need a pep talk from time to time to remind him of how far he has come.  If the performer starts making too many mistakes in a row, his confidence could be seriously damaged.  If you start to see signs of demoralization, give him a break so that he can get his mind off all the steps.  When he relaxes, he will perform better. You are now a golfer, but you’re not enjoying it much.  It takes too much thinking.  Eyes on the ball, legs apart, knees bent, eyes on the ball, pull back, eyes on the ball, elbow straight, eyes on the ball, swing, eyes on the ball, WHACK!  You thought golf was supposed to be fun.  Be patient.  Before you know it, you will cross over to… Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence Eureka!  You’ll rarely recognize the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 when it happens, but you’ll be able to see it in retrospect.  One day, you’ll observe the performer, and she will be performing the task without even thinking about it.  Be sure to point it out to her, because she will probably be the last to know.  The beauty of this stage is that the new skills and knowledge have been integrated into the performer’s skill set.  She is now the expert that she originally set out to be! When did it happen?  Who knows?  Overnight, you stopped having to think so much about what you were doing.  Now, you can’t wait to get on the greens.  Everybody wants you to join their group for the upcoming tournament.  Tiger called and asked you for some advice. The Competence Cycle is universal.  All experts were once beginners  – even the Tiger Woods of the world.  While some have natural ability, disciplining it to make it work for them is still a learning process.  Use the Competence Cycle to diagnose your performers.  Then, meet them where they are at to help them move to the next level.

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Filed under Challenges, Change, coaching, comfort zone, commitment, delegation, discipleship, failure, Fathering, feedback, growth, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, motivation, parenting, performance, Persistence, Productivity, Teaching

Pick a Winner


How many superstar athletes do you know of that went on to become great coaches?  Not many, I bet.  It rarely happens, because the skill set that makes the best athletes has very little overlap with the skill set that makes great coaches.  In fact, some of the things you need to be great as an athlete (i.e. a burning desire to be the best) work at cross purposes to what you need to be a great coach (i.e. a burning desire to help others to be the best they can be).

This principle is true on our teams, as well.  The best individual producers are not necessarily the best qualified for leadership.  Yet, because we don’t know how to identify leadership potential, we promote on what we can measure: aptitude in their current role.  This is a simple approach, but it’s often ineffective.  Promoting your top producer to manager may create more problems than it solves.  Achievement-minded people often struggle with leadership, because it requires that they switch their focus from their personal goals to the goals of the team.  The drive that was so necessary in their previous role often causes interpersonal problems with their team members.  Their strength then becomes a weakness.

Achievement-minded people also find it difficult to delegate.  From their viewpoint, no one can do it as well as they can (and they are probably right – they are the superstars, remember).  Besides, much of what they do so well is rooted in talent.  While skills can be taught, talent is part of our genetic code.  Michael Jordan can teach you some of the fundamentals and advanced skills of basketball, but he can’t teach you to be great unless you are already naturally gifted athletically.

Instead of promoting the same type of people over and over and expecting different results, why not try to identify an individual’s talent for leadership?  While this can be challenging considering our team members’ job responsibilities, it isn’t impossible.  As you talk to your team members, keep your antennae out for the following leadership competencies:

  • Leadership in other environments (church, community, trade organizations, family…)
  • Dissatisfaction with the status quo
  • Willingness to take on more responsibility
  • Ability to overcome obstacles to complete a task
  • Respect of his/her peers (not to be read “Liked by his/her peers” – they are not the same thing)
  • Integrity
  • Willingness to give away credit

Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list.  Add competencies of your own to round it out.  If you can’t glean enough information about your team members from observation and interaction, give them an opportunity to lead a project team or task force.  Let them head the next meeting.  Put them in charge of organizing the team off-site.  If all else fails, ask them to give you examples of each competency from their personal experience.  Starting with the right criteria makes all the difference.

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Filed under delegation, leadership, management, mentoring, Promotion, Succession, teambuilding

Summer Slide


As the kids head back to school, teachers everywhere are facing a common dilemma – the “summer slide.”  Over the summer break, kids’ reading abilities, study habits and knowledge levels erode as books and other intellectual pursuits take a back seat to swimming, movie-going and Nintendo-playing.  Teachers often have to repeat up to six weeks of lessons from the previous year just to get the students back to their previous levels of proficiency and knowledge.

We may know this happens intuitively, but Hopkins sociologists Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle have actually studied the phenomenon.  They followed 790 randomly-selected Baltimore students from 20 different schools from the time they entered the first grade in 1982 through their graduations in 1994.  By comparing testing scores from one year to the next, the researchers were able to see the impact a lack of academic focus had during the summer.

Those students who enrolled in summer camps, music or art lessons or who were encouraged to read during the break tended to maintain knowledge levels, while those who had less focus during the summer tended to forget more of what they had learned the previous school year.  From year to year, these learning gaps grew wider and wider between the two types of students so that by the end of the fifth grade, the difference in verbal abilities was two years and the difference in math abilities was a year-and-a-half.

Now, I’m guessing that not too many of us adults have been to summer camp, music or art lessons in quite awhile, and statistics don’t look too good for our reading habits.  A Gallup poll on reading habits in 1990 found that the proportion of Americans who had not completed a book in the previous year had doubled to 16% since the previous poll in 1978 reported 8%.  An Associated Press-Ipsos poll in 2007 had the number at a dismal 25%.  If these numbers continue, over 50% of us won’t read any books by 2052, and no one will be reading books by the year 2112.

A.C. Neilson (the company that measures television ratings in the U.S.) reported in 1998 that six million videos are checked out every day (and that’s just my family…).  Compare that to three million library books checked out in the average day (and a good percentage of those are by students).  Neilson also tells us that the average American family watches over four hours of T.V. a day (equivalent to two months of non-stop T.V. viewing a year).

So, how’s your “summer slide” going?  If elementary-age children could lose one-and-a-half to two years of verbal and mathematical ability after just five summers, what does that mean for us (who have had a few more summers on our record)?  Are you actively learning anything, or has life since high school or college been one big summer break?  Don’t let those brain cells drain away; it’s use ‘em or lose ‘em!  Head to the library…we’ve got some catching up to do!

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Filed under brain, growth, habits, learning, Teaching

All Experts Were Once Beginners


When you recognize this simple fact (that all experts were once beginners), you begin to have a little more patience dealing with those around you.  I’ve shared the following “Competence Cycle” with you once before, but it’s so important, it’s worth revisiting.  As people learn how to do new tasks, they will go through four predictable stages related to their confidence and competence.  The leader’s role is to help them progress through the four stages without damaging their self-confidence or causing too much risk to the those around them.

Competence Cycle


Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence
At this stage, the performer has little concept of what the task is actually going to entail. He is incredibly excited about it and feels enormous confidence that he is up to the task.  The problem is that this confidence is rarely based on reality.  The confidence comes from ignorance of the skills, knowledge and hard work necessary to complete the task.  Often, performers feel that success in previous endeavors will guarantee success in this one.  Sometimes they are right, but most often they are not.

Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence
This stage is typically a huge letdown for the performer.  The high expectations he/she had have not materialized. The task is harder, bigger, less glamorous, more work…you name it.  They’ve made a big step, though.  Just recognizing that you don’t have the skill set or knowledge for the task is the first step toward getting them.  Now they know what they don’t know.  As long as the performer doesn’t regress to Stage 1 (i.e., go into denial about the skills and knowledge he needs), you’ve got him right where you want him.  Now that he knows he won’t be the next prodigy, he will typically be much more teachable.  What he needs from you is encouragement.  His confidence has been dealt a blow, and he needs to know that this is a normal stage…that all experts were once beginners. Keep the end result in front of him to motivate him through this stage.

Stage 3 – Conscious Competence
Progress has been made.  The performer has developed the competence to be able to perform the task.  The problem here is that the performer has to really concentrate on the steps to get it done.  She will typically be hesitant and afraid of making mistakes.  She might over-think the process, leading to avoidable errors and frustration.  Your role as the leader will be to be patient and allow her plenty of practice.  She may need a pep talk from time to time to remind her of how far she has come.  This is a necessary stage.  If she starts making too many mistakes in a row, her confidence could be seriously damaged. Give her a break so that she can get her mind off all the steps.  When she relaxes, she will perform better.

Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence
Eureka! You’ll rarely recognize the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 when it happens, but you’ll be able to see it in retrospect.  One day, you’ll observe the performer, and she will be performing the task without even thinking about it.  Be sure to point it out to her, because she probably won’t have realized it yet.  The beauty of this stage is that the new skills and knowledge have been integrated into the performer’s skill set.  She is now the expert that she originally set out to be!
Let’s see if this applies to even the incomparable Michael Jordan, leader of the six-time national champion Chicago Bulls team of the 90s.   Most would agree that, at the top of his game, Michael Jordan was Unconsciously Competent at basketball.  He could do just about anything he pleased on the court.  He didn’t have to count the number of steps before he made a lay-up (everyone knows he flew from half-court).  He didn’t have to think through his set-up before making the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.  He just did it – Unconscious Competence.

But remember, all experts were once beginners.  There was a time that MJ thought he was better than he really was.  He had the natural talent, but it wasn’t disciplined.  Going into high school, MJ was Unconsciously Incompetent about playing basketball.  Want proof?  Did you know that his game was so undisciplined that he was cut from his sophomore team?

It was a real wake-up call for him, and he moved immediately to Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence.  But instead of letting that setback defeat him, he used it to motivate and challenge him to move through Stages 3 and 4 until he became the face of basketball (and Fruit of the Loom, and Gatorade, and Nike, and MCI, and …).  He lit up college basketball, was drafted as the #3 pick to the pros after his junior year and reached the pinnacle of his career by winning three, back-to-back national championships with the Bulls.

Then, full of the confidence that comes with incredible success, he decided that the skills that made him the best in professional basketball would also make him the best in professional baseball.  But being an expert in one field doesn’t make a person an expert in all fields.  The expert turned beginner, and MJ had to start the cycle all over again.  First, there was excitement and over-confidence.  Then, a major letdown as he got stuck in the minors with the Birmingham Barons.

Sometimes Stage 2 is enough to convince a performer he is better suited for something else.  MJ decided the following year that basketball was what he was really suited for, and he returned to help the Chicago Bulls win another three back-to-back championships.

Pick any expert in any field, and you’ll find that none of them were born that way.  Even the prodigies had to hone and shape their talent.  If it’s true for the most talented, it’s true for the average performer.  The best leaders know this and meet their performers where they are at.

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Filed under coaching, expertise, failure, growth, leadership, management, mentoring, performance

The Performance Pill


Got a team member who’s a pain in the neck?  Struggling with an employee who gives you headaches?  Suffering some heartburn after hiring someone to fill a position on your team?  You’re in luck!  The clinic is open, and the doctor is in!

Much of the time, we address the symptoms of our problems (the pain in our neck, the headache, the heartburn) rather than their sources.  That approach gives temporary relief, but it usually creates more problems than it solves in the long run.  For example, taking an aspirin deals with the headache, but it does nothing to deal with what caused it.  The headache may have been the warning sign of a more serious problem.  A band-aid may cover up the bruise, but if we keep banging our knee, the bruises will keep popping up.  Dealing with sources rather than symptoms will lead you to better solutions.

I’m going to make a bold claim.  Any performance problem you are struggling with on your team can be traced to one of five sources.  Knowing these sources helps you to quickly diagnose your problems and prescribe treatment.  Together, these sources make up the Performance Pill, a tool for curing what ails your team.  Let’s look at each source individually.  (You’ll notice I’ve taken some rhyming license to make these fit together.  Please don’t accuse me of malpractice.)

Performance Pill

INSTILL
“Instill” problems occur when we fail to instill our performers with expectations, knowledge and feedback related to their work.  Many times, our expectations are silent.  We forget to make them clear at the beginning of a task, or we assume that the performer should know them.  Sometimes the performers don’t have enough information to do what we ask them to do.  And sometimes, we neglect to give them feedback about a task to let the performer know if they are on the right track or not.  The solution rests solely on our shoulders for this type of problem.  If we haven’t equipped our performers with expectations, knowledge and feedback, we’ve set them up to fail.

SKILL
“Skill” problems occur when performers have not yet developed the talent to do the task.  The solution is simple.  The performer either needs training or practice (with lots of feedback).  But be careful…this is the most common misdiagnosis for performance problems.  Managers love to send their performers to training to “fix them.”  Why?  Because it’s easy, and someone else will do it for me.  It may be easy, but it’s also expensive – in money, in time and sometimes in your relationship (not everyone wants to be sent to training).

HILL
“Hill” problems occur when an obstacle (something they can’t get over) blocks good performance.  The obstacle could be a system problem, a lack of authority, a policy or procedure, a lack of resources…  Even other people can become obstacles to good performance.  Whatever the “hill” is, it’s out of the performer’s control.  Either you or someone else with the authority to deal with it must move it out of the way.

WILL
“Will” problems occur when a performer doesn’t want to do what you want them to do.  People are not motivated to perform in a certain way for a variety of reasons, but they almost always have to do with consequences.  Sometimes people are rewarded for doing the wrong things.  Sometimes they are punished for doing the right things.  Sometimes, it doesn’t matter one way or the other what they do, because no one notices.  And sometimes it may matter, but it doesn’t matter enough to the performer.  The solution for “will” problems is to make it matter.  Find consequences (both positive and corrective) that the performer cares about, and implement them.  If appropriate consequences are already in place, intensify them.

REFILL
“Refill” problems occur when a performer does not have the ability to do the job or does not respond to increased consequences intended to improve “will” problems.  The solution is to “refill” the position with a candidate who does have the ability and the motivation to do the job.  However, avoid jumping to an early diagnosis in this area.  All other sources should be explored and addressed before coming to the conclusion that a performer is in the wrong job.

Feel better yet?  If not, take two and call me in the morning.

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Filed under leadership, management, performance