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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Mastering the game of management, April 28, 2006, 7C.

Racquetball.  Remember that wonderful sport that so many people played back in the 1980s?  Well, it is still around and it is still great for exercise, recreation, and relaxation.  Racquetball also provides an outlet for those who thrive on competition.  To master the sport, certain physical skills have to be learned and an understanding of the rules and philosophy of the game have to be developed.

One can learn to play racquetball, or any other sport, through personal experimentation, trial-and-error, and independent study.  To dramatically improve performance, players must constantly seek out and compete with better players.  By progressively finding and learning to beat better competitors, an individual can become an accomplished player.  This “school of hard knocks” method of learning can take considerable time to yield exceptional results.  It also requires that players have access to good players who actually have something beneficial to demonstrate and emulate.  If the best player to learn from is only an average player, then learning to beat that player only requires someone to be slightly better than average.

Another way to learn a sport is to take lessons from experts.  By finding and learning from people who have studied, developed, and mastered the skills and competencies of the game, players can more efficiently learn the game than only through personal trial and error.  Philosophies and tricks of the game that took someone years of experience to figure out independently might be quickly passed on to others through a series of short lessons, stories, or examples.  In the hands of an expert teacher and player, students of the game can learn to become proficient players more quickly than they can solely through personal experience.

Learning to become an effective manager or leader is similar in many ways to learning to become a proficient athlete.  Both require the mastery of specific skills and competencies and the development of a successful understanding and philosophy of the “game.”  It is possible to become an effective manager or leader solely through personal experience—as long as one has an intuitive feel for the game, is put in situations with people who are worthy examples, has a tremendous drive to improve and learn, and is given plenty of opportunity to practice “playing” the game.

A more efficient way to develop leadership and management abilities is to combine individual experiences with useful lessons and instruction from others.  Studying the philosophies and experiences of successful leaders and managers, attending professional development meetings and workshops, forming mentor relationships, taking management and leadership courses, and participating in internships and supervised on-the-job training opportunities can all accelerate skill and competency development—when combined with a desire to improve, practice, and conscious reflection and learning.

All organizations require effective leadership and management—which require skills and competencies that take considerable time and practice to develop.  Proper attention should be paid to ensuring that individuals put into positions of responsibility have the proper skills and abilities to succeed and win.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved