How to Get Better at Absolutely Anything

I was a terrible, terrible boss for a while.

Despite my hope I’d be fantastic at it…

Despite my certainty that I’d be an absolute natural at it…

Despite my belief that I could be a supervising superwoman…

…once I actually became a boss, the truth became very clear very quickly.

I was terrible at it.

  • I didn’t know how to set expectations, so nobody met them
  • I let myself get too close to my staff, so everything became personal
  • I wasn’t all that great at rewarding those who performed well
  • I absolutely stunk at holding accountable the ones who didn’t

The only thing I had going for me was that I knew it.

And so I set about making myself better.

I decided to do what most of us do in these situations.

I made a list.

I reflected on my own bosses from the past…the ones I respected, the ones who were good at it, the ones I could model myself after.

It turned out to be a very, very short list.

And so, grudgingly and with a heavy sigh, I focused on all I had left.

I reflected on the other bosses from my past…the ones I didn’t like.

And there were plenty.

  • There were the ones who needed all the control, who had bad tempers.
  • There were the ones who were weak, who hid from upper management.
  • There were the ones who played favorites, who didn’t care if we knew it.

And then it hit me.

That these very people – the ones who had caused so much pain by being such bad bosses – could actually teach me to be a great one.

Not because they showed me what to do.

But because they showed me what not to do.

Which immediately made me better.

By reflecting on my own terrible bosses…

  • I realized I needed to be supportive to my staff without getting too close to them.
  • I realized I needed to hold people accountable, but not be a bully.
  • I realized I needed to get close enough to staff to support them, but stay far enough away to stay objective.

Once I used these lessons…once I became a better boss…I realized something else.

That this strategy could work in every, single part of my life.

And so, ever since, whenever I’ve wanted to get better at something…be it the way I drive, the tone I take in emails, the way I interact at cocktail receptions…I use it.

I learn my lessons.

I look at those who do it well and learn what to do.

Then, I look at those who do it poorly and learn what not to do.

Which instantly makes me better at it.

  • I’ve learned how to network effectively at luncheons by watching people who talk about themselves incessantly…
  • I’ve learned how to create power point presentations by sitting through slide after slide of chunky, boring copy…
  • I’ve learned how to write blogs by reading the ones that go on forever…

…And, each time, I’ve vowed to never do the same.

Great leaders know that surrounding themselves with successful people teaches them important lessons.

They also know that finding those who mess things up teaches them lessons that are just as important, sometimes even more so.

This week, think about something you want to improve – in your professional life or your personal one, big or small.

It could be anything:

  • The way you speak in public
  • The way you show your gratitude
  • The way you cook an egg
  • The way you tell a joke
  • The way you shake someone’s hand

Sure, pay attention to the ones who do it right, and learn from them.

Then, take the next step.

Pay attention to the ones who mess it up, and learn from them, too.

Then, sit back, and watch yourself grow.

Now, go do good…and do it well.

2 thoughts on “How to Get Better at Absolutely Anything

  1. Patricia Costa says:

    Thank you again Deirdre for your wisdom. Experiences in life, both good and bad, can serve as great lessons if we are aware. One thing I’m more aware of is to be a better listener because of others who cut me off or don’t pay attention when I’m talking.

  2. Lindsey says:

    This is reminiscent of a bit of advice I picked up at my PLNU MBA leadership integrity retreat, from a VP of B of A:
    “learn something from anything, whether its something to do or not to do.”
    Great lesson Deirdre!

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