The Olympic Games are happening this week and next, which will tell you everything you need to know about where my head is for the next few days. I love the Olympic Games, for many reasons. But near the top of the list is that I love learning about how elite performers became elite. And while every athlete’s story is unique, there is a common thread that you hear over and over and over… they became really good at their sport by repetition (almost always from a young age) and by becoming a true student of their craft. There are no “casual” elite performers.
This idea is always reinforced by the former elite athlete who is on television, commenting on the competition. They give insights that few others could give, because in a previous Games they lived it. As I listen to their commentary, I am always struck by the things they notice that I would never notice, the way they speak about their sport, and specifically the vocabulary they use to break down the difference between great and less-than-great performances. They can diagnose what is happening, and then talk about it, in ways that very few others can.
The same is true with everything… an expert in combustion engines probably has a story about taking apart engines as a young kid, and they can look (or usually listen) to an engine, and notice things that others would never notice. And they have the vocabulary to talk about it.
Pick your craft or your skill, and you will see the same thing. A true expert is not only good at their craft… they also have a way of thinking about it and speaking about it that makes it easier to understand what is really going on. They can diagnose what is happening, and then explain their diagnosis.
The best speakers that I know not only present or communicate well in the workplace… they know why they are good at what they do. They are intentional. They can explain what they are doing, and why they are doing it. And when they listen to others speak, they can quickly get beyond generalities and explain specifically why a presentation worked or didn’t work.
Think about how often you have gotten feedback in the workplace that felt totally general and unhelpful. (As an aside, this is a comment I hear often in workshops… this is the first time I have ever gotten specific feedback. And think about how often others have asked YOU for feedback. Be honest. How often was the feedback specific enough to be valuable?
Here is what you can do… when you are listening to someone else speak or present, whether you like it or not, challenge yourself to think about why you like it or don’t like it. Pay attention to specifically what they are doing, or not doing, that is helping or hurting the performance. And as you do that, start to make a list of the things that more often than not lead to a good or a bad performance. That list will not only help you become better at the craft. It will make you a better diagnostician, who is able to coach others in a specific and helpful way.
Because no matter what you are trying to do, your true mastery will only come when you can do something well, repeatedly, AND be able to notice different elements of the performance and explain why something worked or didn’t. When you can see it and hear it, and talk about it, now you are a true master of the craft.
Have a great day!
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