Cover Stories Motivate On The Cover September 2017

How to Become a Management Master

Written By: Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Last year, 641 people tried to climb Mount Everest; five never came back. Those frightening odds keep most of us firmly planted at lower elevations; however, consider how many times the average guide (a Sherpa) leads teams up and down the mountain. Despite making so many more trips, fewer Sherpas have died when compared with Westerners. Why are their chances of survival so much better?

The answer to that question is this: They have practiced so much that they have become masters of their craft.

Psychologist Bruce Burns of Michigan State University decided to find out the answer to the long-debated question: How long does it take to achieve mastery? To find an answer, he focused on a personal passion of his: chess.

Burns’ research suggests that mastery is not just because a champion is naturally gifted at the game. Instead, chess grandmasters achieve heightened skill levels because they do something that most of us stopped doing after childhood. They practice — a lot. Daily.

How could this help us become masters of managing people? Remember that leadership, too, requires practice. It’s just as important for you as it is for a child and piano lessons, a chess grandmaster or an elite athlete.

In Burns’ research, top players recognized patterns on the chessboard almost instantly because they had seen those patterns so often in past games. And in most cases, their reacting moves were the right decisions. Just like a Sherpa on Everest can better recognize dangerous crevices and weather patterns, a seasoned musician can sense the next stanza when sight-reading a piece of music or a skilled parent knows when a temper tantrum is brewing, the research shows that pattern recognition is advanced through consistent, daily practice.

After his research, Burns concluded, “Superior skill may be acquired predominantly through practice rather than be the product of some general ability or talent.”

In managing a team, you might think you don’t have the time for a lot of practice. The truth is that in just a few minutes a day, you can develop the skills used by the very best leaders. Great managers set and communicate a clear vision with their teams; they communicate transparently and pull the best ideas out of their people; they talk monthly with their direct reports about their career development; and they recognize great achievements every day. That’s a manager’s practice. Pretty soon, it becomes second nature.

Here’s our challenge for you: This week, think about just one management skill you’d like to develop and put it into practice each day in unique ways.


CHESTER ELTON AND ADRIAN GOSTICK have spent two decades helping clients engage their employees to execute on strategy, vision and values. In their provocative, inspiring and always entertaining talks, these #1 bestselling leadership authors provide real solutions for leaders looking to manage change, drive innovation, and lead multi-generational workforces. Their work is supported by research with more than 850,000 working adults, revealing the proven secrets behind high- performance cultures. They are co-founders of the training company The Culture Works and authors of the #1 New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers All In, The Carrot Principle and What Motivates Me. Their books have been translated into 30 languages and have sold 1.5 million copies around the world.

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