Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Performance Improvement Research from Aristotle


The French have this great line, "Tout est nouveau, vieux nouveau," which more or less translates as "Everything old is new again." A New York Times column by David Brooks, "Genius: The Modern View," sort of proves the wisdom of that line. Brooks summarized the conclusions of two recent books, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin to make the point that lots of deliberate practice is what made Mozart one of the all time musical greats and has Tiger Woods on track to be the greatest golfer of all time.

The new research Brooks talks about is interesting but it essentially illustrates something Aristotle said over 2,000 years ago: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." If there's one idea that informs the way I think about coaching and performance improvement, that's it. What some of the newer books are adding to the Aristotelian guidance is more detail about how to put the core idea into practice. Brooks does a nice job of breaking the detail down into tangible steps:

  1. Look for a strength to build on. (e.g. "natural" technical skills, leadership skills, athletic skills, etc.)
  2. Create a picture of best case performance by identifying some role models who have accomplished a lot in the domain of that strength. (e.g. young Tiger had a picture of Jack Nicklaus on his bedroom wall.)
  3. Go deep in that strength. Observe, read and think as much as you can about it.
  4. Practice that strength in a way that breaks the various components down into highly discrete and identifiable behaviors.
  5. Focus on becoming conscious of unconscious behaviors and actions.
  6. Find a coach or mentor who can provide the outside-in perspective to reinforce positive behaviors and point out and correct non-productive behaviors.
  7. When you've mastered one or more of the behaviors, go back to step 4, identify some additional components and repeat steps 4, 5 and 6.

So, it's that easy, right? Umm, maybe not. In my coaching experience, the difference between leaders who improve by leaps and bounds and those who don't is the clarity of the developmental focus and the willingness and motivation to follow through. The follow through is otherwise known by that nasty word called "practice." The good news is that everyday life presents all kinds of opportunities for intentional practice.

It's what I call the "school of real life." My point as a coach is that your calendar is full of stuff every week that you're going to do anyway. So, if you're going to do all of that stuff anyway, why not approach your calendar with the additional intent of using your daily activities to learn how to be a better leader by practicing one or two specific behaviors (e.g. listening, asking good questions, delegating work to others, showing confidence in presentations, etc.) that could make you a better leader? Life is one big learning opportunity. Why not approach it with some clear intention around continuous improvement?

I'll turn it back to David Brooks for an inspiring conclusion:

"Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we're "hard-wired" to do. And it's true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it's not who you are, it's what you do."

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.