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Practice Makes Permanent

Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 08:18

By Dr Malcolm Johnson FAIM

In reading the title to this post, did your mind interpret it as ‘Practice Makes Perfect’? Quite understandable when we reflect on how many times we will have heard the phrase through life. In a management setting, practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect. We do know from research that practice makes permanent.

Herein lies the concern. One year repeated 5, 10 or 20 times makes for entrenched management practices or permanent approaches to dealing with issues from a narrow management perspective. Practice makes permanent, driving out any latitude for agile responses to current or emerging management issues.

Perhaps this is one of the contributing issues to poor innovation and the high rate of failure in implementing change initiatives. But I digress.

Evolving a management repertoire requires a life-long learning orientation, to be prepared to explore new approaches, to collaborate and openly discuss the outcomes. Not all organisations or workplaces are safe as learning environments. Leadership from the highest level must endorse practices and rewards that stimulate open and constructive dialogue. Formal mentoring by senior managers respected for their expertise and learning orientation is an important first step. Professional coaching external to the organisation might also be worth considering if internal politics is toxic in the early part of this journey.

Willingness to learn, emotional intelligence and adaptability coalesce in the construct of Learning Agility. Applied in the context of the organisation or management issue, one would anticipate seeing complementary Analytical Skills evidenced through intellectual curiosity, strategic insight, problem solving and effective decision making. These cognitive skills fuel the intellectual powerhouse of leadership potential.

Emotion provides the necessary motion to execute well. Leadership qualities of Drive are evident through a dedication to task, focus on results, and a perseverance to get there. Within the context of managerial imperative, these qualities would be complemented by key aspects of Emergent Leadership where motivation to lead, self-promotion, and sensitivity to the needs of stakeholders come into prominence.

Seen as the ‘head’ and ‘heart’ of leadership, the above qualities provide a stark contrast to managerial thrombosis or ‘hardening of the arteries’ that restrict any capacity to learn from experience.

The antidote to ‘Practice Makes Permanent’ is to actively encourage open discussion of learning experiences; to welcome discussion of unanticipated success and failures. That’s where the learning is greatest and where management repertoire is most effectively enhanced. And it’s where leadership potential is most readily identified.


Further Reading: Dries, N. & Pepermans, R. 2012. How to Identify Leadership Potential: Development and Testing of a Consensus Model. Human Resource Management, 51, 3, 361-365.

Dr Malcolm Johnson FAIM is National Director, Research and Thought Leadership at the Australian Institute of Management. Malcolm’s contribution to enhanced management practices has been recognised through coverage in publications ranging from BRW, Asset, InFinance and Money Management to the Australian Financial Review and The Australian.