Debunking Leadership Myths #2 — Experience Does NOT Pay

This second installment of my Leadership Myths series addresses a phrase you may have heard once, twice, or 300 times: Experience pays

You may find that you perpetuate this one yourself. Perhaps you believe that your success is predicated on the years you’ve logged in your industry, or maybe your hiring process is partially based on how long candidates have paid their dues. There’s some sound logic there, and this one isn’t a total myth—experience can come with significant benefits. But to go further—to reach peak performance and become a dominant player in your industry—you need more than experience alone. It’s called “deliberate practice.”

In the early ’90s, psychologists K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer set out to determine how people at the very top of their fields—true experts—got there. They found that the greatest factor in success was not innate talent, but deliberate practice, or “effortful activity designed to optimize improvement.”[1]

Deliberate practice requires three things:

·   Motivation to stretch one’s capabilities

·   Extreme repetition

·   Flow of feedback

What does this look like in action? Professional basketball legend Larry Bird provides a perfect example. During his career, he shot 100 free throws in a row at each practice (usually making around 90 of them). He was already at the pinnacle of the sport, but he insisted on keeping himself in the learning zone. Making 90+ of 100 shots required intense repetition, and from every shot he made or missed he learned something important about his technique. He amplified his experience and made it work for him. 

Deliberate practice is experience 2.0—you make the choice to build upon your experience and intentionally capitalize on what you learn from it. You reap the benefits not just from time spent, but more importantly from focused effort. Deliberate practice also has a lot in common with the process of habit formation, namely repetition and exposure. But what sets it apart is intentionality

You can use deliberate practice to level up your leadership game, adopt productive leadership habits, ultimately bringing you closer to your goals. 

Here are three of the ten success-driving leadership habits I discuss in my book Activators – A CEO’s Guide to Clearer Thinking and Getting Things Done that are worth your consideration:

Seek simplicity: Albert Einstein, one of the most sophisticated thinkers of the 20th century, said, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” Many of us have been conditioned to favor complexity, but in an organizational setting, it’s simplicity that will boost efficiency and save your sanity. 

It takes work to undo that conditioning, but it’s worth putting in the effort. Simplify your processes as much as you can. Clean off your desk, clear unnecessary meetings from your calendar, and work on decluttering your mind. Study the effects of seeking simplicity on your productivity and use that feedback to address other areas of your personal and professional life where an excess of stuff—informational or material—may be holding you back.

Over-communicate: We believe that once we’ve explained our position or given an instruction, we’re done. But just because you’ve said it doesn’t mean that someone has understood you, that they have clarity on what they need to do, or that they actually know how to do it. Until your team is literally rolling their eyes and finishing your sentences, you haven’t successfully communicated. 

Repetition is at the heart of the deliberate practice, and communication is the perfect way to cement how critical it is.

Be grateful: When you appreciate and value what you have, you gain a clearer perspective. That’s why I begin each of my client meetings with a round of personal and professional appreciation. This ritual creates space for each executive to share and reflect on what they appreciate most and what’s been working before we dig into the business at hand. It lightens the mood in the room and facilitates clearer thinking and increased collaboration.

Try making gratitude part of your meetings and informal interactions, and gauge the effect of regular appreciation on yourself, your team, and what you’re able to accomplish.

The bottom line? Experience is important, but by engaging in deliberate practice, you can do so much more to enhance your knowledge and proficiency in any domain. Use this simple, yet highly effective process to learn from your experiences and build habits that will further accelerate your success. 

Next in the Leadership Myths series, we’ll investigate a flawed assumption you likely hold: that you, yourself, are inherently rational. 


[1] K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” Psychological Review, vol. 100, no. 3 (1993), http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/EricssonDeliberatePracticePR93.PDF.

In my work as a business and leadership growth coach, I encounter cases, research, and stories about how leaders learn, grow, and become more effective. I’ll share a select few in each edition of my newsletter – particularly those at the intersection of leadership, business growth, and behavior change.

Why We Focus on Trivial Things: The Bikeshed Effect

How can we stop wasting time on unimportant details? From meetings at work that drag on forever without achieving anything to weeks-long email chains that don’t solve the problem at hand, we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on the inconsequential. Then, when an important decision needs to be made, we hardly have any time to devote to it.

To answer this question, we first have to recognize why we get bogged down in the trivial. Then we must look at strategies for changing our dynamics towards generating both useful input and time to consider it.

The Illusion of Uncertainty

One reason why the world is in a mess is because, for a long time, the ratio between ‘explore’ and ‘exploit’ has been badly out of whack. Entities like procurement have been allowed to claim full credit for money-grabbing cost-savings without commensurate responsibility for delayed or hidden costs. The shadow of this is everywhere, from Grenfell Tower to PPE shortages.

Bees seem to have spotted this trade-off between narrow and broad-scale efficiency 20 million years ago. Although most of them follow the waggle-dance (exploiting what is already known), a significant minority do not. These R&D bees explore at random, seeking nectar and pollen from sources as yet unknown. Most of these journeys are individually wasteful — but every now and then they pay off hugely in the form of a new find. Indeed there would be no bees without this ‘inefficiency’; hives would end up starving to death.

How to Hire a Coach

You make decisions every day based on some degree of incomplete information – you simply do the best with what you have and move forward. You are able to function this way because you possess deep knowledge and context of the day-to-day operation of your business.

Hiring a coach isn’t a day-to-day decision for you. In fact, it might be a once in a lifetime decision for you! And a risky one at that: You are contemplating a potentially large investment of money, time and energy that will also require a leap of faith.

What if you engage the wrong person or firm? Pick a tool, system or framework that doesn’t work for your particular company? Get sold something that feels and sounds great, but doesn’t address the root issues that you must address? Work through a process that takes a lot of time and energy, but doesn’t produce concrete, measurable business results? The list goes on…

There are 6 factors that separate “cream of the crop” coaches from the rest. Use them to tip the scales in your favor to find the “right” coach for your business.

Here are a few discussion questions designed to help you convert today’s content into directed action:

  1. How can you use deliberate practice to improve your capabilities as a leader?
  2. What decision, action, or initiative are you and your team over-complicating? What would a simpler version look like, sound like, or feel like?
  3. How can you limit the impact of the Law of Trivitality on your team’s discussions, debates, and decisions?

Want More? Consider These Next Steps…

  1. Subscribe to my newsletter at https://mark-green.com/#newsletter 
  2. Learn more about coaching at https://mark-green.com/coaching/
  3. Book me to speak at https://mark-green.com/speaking/
  4. Buy Activators at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1949639096
  5. Buy Creating a Culture of Accountability at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B082RHL566