Written by Kathy Fauble, M.Ed., Director, Professional Education Services

Practice makes perfect! I know you have heard that, and if you have kids, you've probably said it to them a million times. And why not? Dedicated, careful practice is how you achieve your goals. We are a family of tennis players. When our kids were young, we would take a hopper of balls to the court, and they would practice serve after serve so they could hit their spots and perform under pressure during a match. Basketball players, shoot free throw after free throw. For musicians, it means working the hard sections of a piece over and over until you can play it perfectly.

Do you still follow this advice as an adult and as a leader? No matter where you are in your career it’s important to keep learning and to practice those skills that will make you more effective in what you do. We tend to think that some people are just natural leaders. The born vs. made argument. But research shows that all of us can develop skills that make us good leaders. It just takes practice.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner have written extensively about what it takes to be an exemplary leader. In their book Learning Leadership, they write, “Our research shows that a universal set of leadership practices is associated with exemplary leadership, and these practices are within the capacity of everyone to follow.”

That’s good news for all of us, but it requires us to set specific goals and to strive to meet those goals. No one is perfect, but don’t settle for mediocre.  Instead challenge yourself to grow and make improving your leadership a daily habit. And don’t go it alone. Talk to others, work with a mentor, read leadership books, and ask for feedback. You never know what you can accomplish if you don’t try. Success is 95% hard work and 5% talent.

The Best Leaders are the Best Learners

Kouzes and Posner went on to say “the best leaders are the best learners.” For the past six months, the ICAHN Rural Health Fellows have been honing their skills around hospital operations, finance, project management, advocacy, and leadership. Their ongoing commitment to learning will make them great hospital leaders.

My son was never a musician, but his talented aunt wanted him to learn the piano. Practice time was torture, and she suggested practicing in five-minute increments. I was happy for one-minute of practice time and eventually I told him if he would just glance at the piano when he walked by, we would count that! Music wasn’t his thing, but he has gone on to excel in things he was much more passionate about and where he dedicated his time. Where do you want to excel?

In our busy workdays it’s easy to put off practice. But it’s important to find your leadership passion, believe in yourself, and practice the skills that you want to improve.