“An amateur practices until he can play it correctly, a professional practices until he can’t play it incorrectly”.

leadership-are you a professional or an amateur?This greeted me as an inspirational quote on my computer and instantly triggered my thinking about the frustrations I feel when working with business leaders.

Working with the “Captains of Business” who loudly sing the “leadership song” and chase elite performance for the business they lead – just like professional athletes – this quote helped to bring tangibility to the very significant difference between professional athletes chasing elite performance and business leaders chasing the elite performance that satisfies all of their critical stakeholders and earns them the remuneration they desire.

Business leaders are not prepared to adopt the habits of elite athletes – for training, for practice, for debriefing, for digging deep inside to develop the kind of self awareness essential for sustainable elite performance. Elite athletes only develop the sustainable habits to ensure they “don’t play it incorrectly” because they commit with incredible discipline and rigour to train, to practice, to analyse their performance with a thorough debrief and analysis! They dig deep without defensiveness and with total accountability for their choices.

Contrast this dedication to business leaders who demand the “magic pill” – tell me what three things require my focus…….I have received far too many models, frameworks and ideas, they say. Imagine Roger Federer or Serena Williams telling their coach they can only focus on the ball toss for their serve – please don’t give me things to focus on for my forehand, backhand and volley – just cannot cope with all of that detail about all of those skills when I go onto the court and want to win the game and perform at my best, in that moment!

In reality business leaders are asking for “dope” when they demand the magic pill to “fix” their leadership capability. We are horrified when elite athletes do this – think about how you felt when you heard about Lance Armstrong who had won seven Tour de France titles and years later we were to find he achieved this success with the assistance of drugs!

As a business community we are putting up with doping when it comes to our business leaders. We need to demand better.

Too many of these leaders are relying on reflexive thinking – the low road of thinking – operating on automatic pilot and “reacting” to the daily grind of life. They struggle to prioritise, react to phone calls and emails and feel too many tasks and things are “urgent”. Running around like a hamster on the wheel they create pressure for everyone working in the business. Too few people are given the space and time to realise their true potential.

The alternative is reflective thinking – the high road of thinking – and is totally representative of practice and training and the kind of discipline required to be the professional leader we are so desperately in need of!