Practice Makes Permanent

by Dr Malcolm Johnson FAIM

Practice Makes Permanent

In reading the title to this commentary, 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

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.

About author

Dr Malcolm Johnson MBA (Qld ) Ph.D (Qld) FAIM
Dr Malcolm JohnsonDr Malcolm Johnson is General Manager of Professional Development and Research at the Australian Institute of Management QLD NSW ACT NT. He completed his MBA and thesis on corporate strategy while working at Shell Australia, subsequently contributing to preparation of the country business plan submitted to the Shell Board in London.

Malcolm undertook doctoral research in decision behaviour which he subsequently applied to build and sell a number of sizeable businesses in the financial services sector. Understanding decision drivers enabled articulation of client specific solutions that mapped aspirations to appropriate actions and resources.

The research also has specific application to change management. Understanding the complexity of implementing strategic change, he has guided a number of strategic transformations across the public and private sectors. This contribution to enhanced management practices has been recognised through coverage in publications ranging from BRW, Asset, InFinance, and Money Management through to the Australian Financial Review and The Australian.