Practice is the only path to mastery. Skills in every walk of life require it. Master painters sketch basic elements of their masterpieces over and over before committing them to paint and canvas. Musicians sometimes play the same few notes over and over again in pursuit of perfection. These craftspeople improve in the privacy of their studios; but where can we practice our trade? How can you learn to lead teams, manage projects, and communicate with leaders without everyone watching?
The difference between practice and hard work
In pursuit of progress, hard work is not enough. Practice can be hard work, but not all hard work is practice. It has purpose and goals. It has structure and is clearly tied to progress. You cannot practice effectively in a space where you feel judged. Hard work requires effort and tenacity, but practicing also demands risk-taking and a deep focus on the specific areas you are trying to improve.
Why don’t people talk about practicing at work?
We try to avoid embarrassment. We must expose flaws to improve them. In a work environment, doing something poorly can be uncomfortable for you and those around you.
Organization has a managerial vs. coaching mindset. Managers often focus on organizing or training workers differently to solve business problems instead of creating safe spaces for individuals’ continued development.
We are focused on immediate needs. Prioritizing today’s business problems over building capability to solve tomorrow’s new challenges. Practice requires time and patience, which can be rare in large organizations. The reality is that a workforce that doesn’t know how to systematically improve its skills is a business risk.
The need is not apparent. It can be hard to see the need for practice when you’re already getting good results. But someday you will be tested beyond your current skills and you will need a framework for how to get better at something. Learn now before you reach that point.
How can I create space to practice at work?
Let people know what you’re working on and that you’re open to feedback. Get yourself a mentor and a coach–a mentor to help you decide what to practice and a coach to help you stay on track and process what you learn.
Ask for opportunities. There are safe spaces to practice at work–you just have to find them. Every organization has a project that no one cares about, or one that is important but on hold waiting for someone to lead it. Do a little digging. Ask around.
Do you practice at work? How have you been able to make space for it?