Watching Wimbledon’s Center Court as Federer and Djokovic went head-to-head for the grand slam title, my father and I commented back and forth- “Wow- that is a great shot,” “He just never misses his overhead,” or, “I think he has gotten every first serve in!” The constant commentary led us to an interesting conversation around what kind of preparation it actually takes to become a globally ranked tennis champion.
While it is common to hear, “practice makes perfect,” I recall my high school band instructor having a different perspective, claiming that “it isn’t practice that makes perfect, it is perfect practice that makes perfect.” One must have the intention of practicing the “right way”- accurately and consistently- to become a champion. Yet, so often, we throw ourselves into situations without practicing. How often do we initiate a conversation, stand up for a presentation, walk into a meeting, make a phone call, or encounter other situations without practicing first? Federer would never step out onto the court (of a grand slam or any tournament) without practicing and warming up… so, if we want to be champions, why would we?
I recently sat with my coach to prepare for a feedback conversation I wanted to have and to discuss how I could start the conversation. And what did I discover through that practice? I learned I have a hidden frustration and the feedback I wanted to provide wasn’t as clearly about helping the person succeed as it was about me wanting to express that frustration. Had I not prepared for that conversation, my frustration would have come forward and I would be doing a disservice to both of us. It would be like Federer walking out onto the center court and realizing he isn’t sure how to serve.
And what happened? I walked into the feedback conversation able to articulate my intention and stay true to it through the dialogue. Was it perfect? NO. Was it better then it could have been? A million percent, YES.
As another example, one of my mentors practices every morning. He sits with a cup of coffee and looks over his schedule for the day. For each meeting he thinks about who will be in that meeting and how he can best show up for them. By reviewing all of this in his head, and being able to remind himself before stepping into his meetings, he knows he will be closer to meeting his people where they are and helping them succeed.
This is his practice, and it gets him ready to preform at his best.
Just like Federer didn’t become a tennis champion without intentional practice, we cannot become leadership champions without intentional practice. So I ask you, do you have a practice court? If so, where is it? What does it look like? How much time do you spend there? Who do you invite to practice with you?