I remember the last time our company was on the hunt to hire a new employee. Our list of attributes was lengthy – ‘You must be kind, you must be witty, very sweet and fairly pretty…’ oh wait, wrong list… or was it? Regardless, our desire to hire our very own Mary Poppins was no different than most employers desire to find a person who is practically perfect in every way for a position they need to fill. No training required; just find the right person. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of “The Truth about Leadership”, say “good luck with that.”
I was introduced to the philosophy of Kouzes and Posner by chance, happening upon a link to an excerpt from their book in a recent Dale Carnegie newsletter. The excerpt, titled “Learning Is the Master Skill”, essentially laid claim to the idea that admirable skills and talents, such as leadership, are far from preordained. In their words, the concept of raw talent is a myth.
To strengthen their position, they called upon 25 years of research conducted by K. Anders Ericsson, a noted authority on expertise. Ericsson’s research states that excellence is not rooted in talent, or reserved for the lucky few. The truth is surprisingly cliché: ‘practice makes perfect.’ As a young child who was aggressively encouraged to learn the piano when she’d rather be outside playing in her tree fort, I heard this phrase repeated to the point that it practically lost all meaning.
Yet, according to Ericsson, it is the key to success. “Until most individuals recognize that sustained training and effort is a prerequisite for reaching expert levels of performance, they will continue to misattribute lesser achievement to the lack of natural gifts, and will thus fail to reach their own potential.”
To achieve the highest level of expertise, Ericsson asserts one needs to perform about 10,000 hours of practice over a period of ten years. Kouzes and Posner point out that how you choose to learn is not relevant – be it reading instructions, hands-on experimenting, watching others, thinking critically on the subject or being coached – but the desire to learn and engagement in the process.
During our hiring process, none of the candidates we interviewed possessed all the skills we desired, because like Kouzes and Posner state, this is next to impossible. How can anyone know our systems and processes without already having worked for us? When we finally did hire a new employee, we selected the successful candidate based on their cheerful, positive disposition and their obvious desire and ability to learn. A well formulated plan on how to impart the knowledge gaps was our key to success.
When you’re looking to hire a new employee, or improve your own skill set, what systems will you have in place to ensure that the time and resources are available to ensure they, or you, have the room to succeed?
We want to hear from you! Does your workplace have training programs set in place to help prepare new recruits or improve present employees’ skill sets?
Director of Communications,
Sector Learning Solutions