Does Practice Make Perfect? 5 Tips to Help New Managers

There are many views on whether talent is born or made.  I sit on the “made” side of the fence, as over the years I have developed many skills I didn’t have, to a pretty decent level, even if I say so myself.  Take running for example…

medalOn Sunday 18 October I ran the Birmingham Half Marathon.  I wasn’t the quickest, but I did run all the way and raised over £650 for Macmillan Cancer Support.  3 years ago I couldn’t run a mile without stopping and certainly couldn’t run up a hill!  I was always the last at school to “get picked” for anything remotely sporty.

So what’s changed?  Training, practice, support and motivation to reach my goal. Adjusting my approach where necessary and committing to an overall vision – currently to run the London Marathon next year.  This got me to thinking about the similarities of my training to that of developing people…

I see many businesses getting frustrated with Line Managers who are not managing their people, or employees who may not be performing as well as they could.  We wonder why they get it wrong and complain about them when they do.  I’m sure you can all think of examples.  According to a recent survey by the EEF (The Manufacturer’s Organisation)*:

A whopping 88% of HR professionals believe their line Managers lack the necessary leadership skills.

Often people are left to “learn on the job”, without ever being shown a set of skills.  We promote our best Sales person to manage the team because they are good at selling, without helping them to understand how to effectively manage performance or providing any management training.  They have not been trained to run up that hill.

It doesn’t mean they will never be any good, they just need a bit of help.  Here are my 5 tips for starting that journey from novice to expert, which applies equally to running and to developing new line Managers to become great leaders.

  1. Know what you want to achieve.  Or as the great Stephen Covey said, “Start with the End in Mind”.  It was easy with my running goal, which was to one day run a half marathon (yes I know, the goal post has since moved…!)  In the case of leadership, make sure your newly promoted Managers understand what’s expected of them and are aligned with the vision and objectives of your organisation.  That way, they can ‘live’ this and in turn cascade it to ensure their own team members understand how their contribution counts.  If you do move the goal posts for some reason, keep them informed so they come along with you.
  2. Basic training – provide some.  And make sure they understand what good looks like.  Whether this is being able to hold a difficult conversation, or a more specific skill such as coaching techniques, this needs to be done in a timely manner and not left until business is quiet, as by then its probably too late.
  3. Regular practice – actually repeating the action over and over helps you practice a skill and guess what, you get better at it the more you do it.  No surprises there I don’t expect.  Make sure your Managers have the opportunity to apply their new skill frequently until it becomes firmly embedded.  This may include providing a safe environment initially to build some basic confidence.
  4. Learn from the tough days – we all have good days and bad days, your best learning never comes from the good ones.  Take time to reflect on the learning.  Managers may not get it right first time, but skills can be honed with regular, constructive and timely feedback on what worked well and what could be done better.  Running is the same.  (My learning from Sunday was stay away from the countless free jelly babies well-meaning people offer at the side of the route.  This will avoid a sugar coma later….) Watch out for them being too over-critical – we are often our own worst enemies when it comes to self-evaluation, so encourage the individual to give themselves a break.  Learning is a journey, things will not always go as planned, but when they don’t there are still valuable insights to be gained.
  5. Support – It can be a lonely road, so having a network of people who can offer encouragement, advice and remind you (or them) why you started down this route in the first place is essential.  I’ve found when the above four fail for me, when running or in business, my support network has proved vital in helping me to get back on track.  For line Managers this could be providing someone who can act as a mentor or buddy, or simply encouraging them to network with like-minded professionals who could offer an appropriate level of support.

So what’s all this got to do with running?  Everything.  if I’d been left to my own devices, I’m sure I would have run a half marathon one day, but it would have taken me at least twice as long and been a much more painful journey.  If you want to develop good Managers, they need training and the opportunity to practice those new skills time and time again.  In return, you will gain a stronger management team, happier more engaged employees and better business results.

To conclude, I’m far from the perfect Marathon runner, but I do devote time to my training and get better each time.  For that reason I think talent can be made, with sufficient motivation, commitment and time – it needn’t be costly.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your views.

Author:  Sue Davis

Connect with Sue on LinkedIn.  You can also support her fundraising at

PS.  There are many gurus on the subject of whether talent is born or made.  Read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for more insights on the theory of 10,000 hours of practice, or a shorter read is Matthew Syed’s Bounce – make your own mind up!

*EEF Article link

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