The importance of transforming knowledge into habit
It is an awkward feeling — knowing that you are at a place where you vowed never to go to again. It usually starts with an experience that has an undesirable outcome. “Why did I do that? I know better!”. Then you meander down the path of “Can’t believe I did that,” across the road of “That was stupid,” to the resting place of, “I’ll never do that again.”
Yet, you do.
I was speaking to a business colleague, Aaron, on the phone. He was expressing frustration over approving a new hire that had enough credentials and experience to outfit the whole planet, yet she wasn’t fitting in. The strain was now creating a fissure, and an intervention was required.
“Damn it,” he said. “I know better. I previously worked in a talent agency that specializes in hiring for fit over skills. What was I thinking?” Then, Aaron whispered, “This is so embarrassing.”
Being a leader requires the commitment to improve, and the continuous investment in their self. Coaching, training, performance reviews and feedback are the most likely tools used to identify how to be more effective. Yet, even with these investments, many leaders do not get the results they desire or that their organization requires. Why, then, is there a disconnect between good intentions and implementation?
A highly impactful (and one of my favorite) cartoon depicts a group of turkeys attending a two-day training program to learn how to fly. They studiously learn the principles of aerodynamics in the morning and they practice flying all afternoon and evening. They learn to soar with the wind and against it, over mountains, through canyons and over lakes. They fly solo and in a group. After the rigours of training are over, they all walk home.
Wisdom and expertise are achieved very slowly. This is because intellectual knowledge, which is easily acquired, must be transformed into emotional or subconscious knowledge. Once transformed, the imprint is permanent. Behavioural practice is the necessary catalyst of this reaction. Without action and emotionally connecting to the information, the concept will wither and fade. Theoretical knowledge without consistent practical application is not enough.
I thought about Aaron when I was hiring a new staff member. There was only one candidate who truly exemplified the values that we hold sacred. I knew she would fit in exceptionally well and would perform up to standard, eventually. And that was the challenge. I wanted to hire someone who would jump in and get the job done right away. The relevant experience she had was not in our industry. Did that really matter? Do I hire for fit or industry experience?
Leaders have to have the courage to step into the unknown, and that is what I did. Months later, our standard orientation and training program was put to the test. It was not enough. Job shadowing and coaching were required and the results were not quick to come in. I always held the belief that hiring for fit, which is not trainable, trumps hiring for skill, which is trainable. I just never knew about the substantive investment required by the company. Although her training will continue for the balance of the year, she fits in like she was always here.
Aaron’s hire has left and he is recruiting for the position again.
Each of us may cognitively know what to do. Intellectually the answers have always been there, but the requirement to actualize by experience, to make the subconscious imprint permanent by emotionalizing and practicing the concept is the key.
Walking the talk is a short-form of the phrase: “You can talk the walk but can you walk the talk?” — meaning, act upon what you believe or say you could do, then do it.
There is another cliché that demonstrates this same thought: “Practice what you preach.” In other words, it is easy to read about or talk about how to be a good leader, or good worker for that matter. But to do it right and feel it, almost requires an altered state of consciousness — stepping outside of yourself, your ego, to do what is unknown. It is sustained by practice. It is taking something nearly mystical and transforming it to everyday familiarity by practice, and making it a habit.
All the reading, training and coaching will not matter if you do not put into practice every day what you have learned. Soon enough, you might just get it.