The title for this post is from Geoff Colvin’s book, “Talent is Overrated.” As you would imagine, the title really grabbed our attention. Based on significant research, Colvin concludes that having talent is helpful, but what distinguishes the good performers from the great is what he labels “Deliberate Practice.” In other words, you want to get to the point where you’re good at something, then practice the right stuff with the guidance of a knowledgeable coach. Unfortunately, Colvin uses mostly accomplished athletes — like Tiger Woods — to demonstrate his point. Tiger may have some natural talent, but he started playing golf at age 2 — and, since he has been a professional golfer, he has changed his swing three times as he has worked to get even better.
As we read the book, two Plante Moran partners came to mind almost immediately: Ed Parks and John Sirhal. Many would describe them as being really smart, and they probably are. But we think the secret to their amazing client service is the “Deliberate Practice” Colvin referred to. Both men are voracious readers. When they meet with a client, they are prepared. They know what is going to be discussed, and they do their homework. They anticipate different scenarios. They are very client-focused and look at the issues from many different angles. We have always thought, “Can you imagine what it feels like to be their client?”
So why are we talking about this subject? We are currently assisting a few young executives and helping them to improve certain leadership skills. We believe — and we have told them — that they can, in fact, be better if they want to and if they are willing to put in the “Deliberate Practice.”
Here is the challenge. Do you have associates whom you would like to see improve in a particular skill? Think about what Tiger, Ed, or John would do, then design some specific activities for them to practice (i.e., conducting the next important meeting with your key customer). Make sure they have an opportunity to practice these activities in a situation where you or others will be able to give them feedback — and watch for the results!