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Are You Born as an Elite Performer? Or Do You Achieve it?

Podium in a stadium for elite performers.

Some people seem to have been born with some special ability. Take a look at prolific composer Wolfgang Mozart, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, and 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. Must an elite performer be born with some superpower? Did each simply come into the world with the right genes? Or, like you, did each simply need to develop those abilities?

For a moment, set aside your assumptions and look at the emerging science about “deliberate practice.”  

What is deliberate practice?

Listen to this recent short interview with Anders Ericsson, author of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. He gives this definition:

Deliberate practice is a special type of practice that is systematic and purposeful.

He talks about the elite performer as one who does deliberate practice. And he goes on to say that deliberate practice has three components:

Let’s take a look at those three components.

  • knowledge/training
  • coach/teacher
  • feedback

1. Accumulating knowledge and training activities

Deliberate practice means using an effective, existing body of knowledge to get from Point A to Point B.

By extension, then, it seems he’s saying this: Deliberate practice doesn’t exist without a solid body of knowledge, or a proven way to impart knowledge from one person to another.

Sometimes, the body of healthcare knowledge hasn’t been generated.

Yet, I’ve often seen that the body of knowledge exists, but the teaching or training activities to disseminate that knowledge is far from perfect.

According to Ericsson, deliberative practice is more than just getting a little better at what you can already do. As author Jim Collins would say, it’s about setting big, hairy audacious goals.

In other words, deliberative practice is very goal oriented. Not just getting a little bit better at what you already do.

2. Having a teacher or a coach

I often chuckle at how some people view me. Because I’ve been successful as a maternal-child nurse, some assume I was born as a crackerjack clinician. Or that I had at least come into the field fully grown. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Whether it’s been about maternal-child nursing, writing, coaching, or owning a business, being a leader, or anything else, I got tons of teaching and coaching along the way.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t have done it alone. You’ve heard me testify to how getting help from a colleague was a major turning point in my career.

More recently, you’ve heard me say that without personal and professional development, our growth is thwarted by the Law of the Lid

3. Getting immediate and actionable feedback

To me, this is the big kahuna in becoming an elite performer.

A few months ago, I wrote about finding the right course. “Most people overlook the importance of feedback when looking for the right course. Yet, how can anyone learn without it?”

I stand by that statement.

Emboldened by Ericsson’s research, I am more and more committed to modifying my courses so that they have more guidance, and more learning activities that give the learner immediate an actionable feedback.

With an all-online course, that isn’t easy! But I need to do all that I can to provide that feedback because it is critical the attendee’s success.

Where do we go from here?

If you’re reading this post, I’m fairly sure there’s an existing body of knowledge for you to pursue.

I’m also sure there’s someone who can be your teacher or your coach. (Maybe I’ve already been your teacher!) I’d love to be your coach as you move forward with your career.

I also have a new live (online) workshop coming out: Love What You Do workshop for anyone who feels stuck in their job or their life. It has very limited enrollment, and it’s by invitation only. If you’re interested in joining, let me know in the comments below or email me at and I will send you details.

Getting immediate and actionable feedback can be uncomfortable. But I’m willing to bet that Michael Jordan, Abe Lincoln, and Jeff Bezos all had some feedback along the way.

Having knowledge/training, having a coach, and getting feedback can help you to become an elite performer. Doing what you’ve always done without those three key elements — will not.

How are you working toward being an elite performer? How can I help you along the way? Tell me in the comments below!

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