Practice as a Habit

Pelé, the Brazilian soccer legend, was undeniably "great".  Not only one of the best soccer players in history (some might argue thebest), Pelé was also a classy human being. His secret?  Viewing everything in life as practice.  Both on and off the field, Pelé  viewed every day experience as an opportunity for improvement.

Today, there's a field of study called "expertise and expert performance".  Scientists have long been trying to understand what enables some people to develop expertise in a field while others remain only average. The difference is due to what scientists have identified as something called "deliberate practice."

Perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency
— Dictionary definition of "practice"

"Deliberate practice" refers to breaking down a given skill into it's key components and practicing those components over and over. As a result, the "deliberate" part is as key as the "practice" part. That's why expert musicians slow down and meticulously practice the difficult sections; why expert hockey players insist on skating drills that allow them to practice their footwork; and why Ben Franklin spent so much time improving his writing skills.

How is this relevant to leadership?  It challenges us to think about how much time and deliberate effort we put into honing important leadership traits such as self-awareness, communication, impulse control, problem solving, etc.  
In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell describes research which suggests 10,000 hours of dedicated practice is what's necessary to become an expert at a skill.  That means about 3 hours a day for 10 years (or 10 hours a day for 3 years).  The actual numbers are less important than the scale.  Simply put, it takes a lot of time and effort to cultivate proficiency at any skill (let alone expertise).

Now, back to Pelé.  Practice was not something limited to training sessions. For Pelé, practice was an attitude towards life.  I often draw on his dedication and discipline to remind myself and my clients that in order to improve an aspect of our lives (relationships, self-mastery, technical skills, leadership, etc.), we must be willing to make it a priority.  It's the only way to get better at this "beautiful game" of life.