When Practice Isn’t Practical

My son and I went to the gun range this weekend to practice. Some things are improved simply by repetition. Practicing or rehearsing increases skill and familiarity so that when the time comes to execute or perform, we are sharp and prepared. With shooting, we practice aiming and controlling our breathing by shooting single shots with time between to regroup. Eventually, we become skilled enough to maintain our tight pattern even in rapid fire or at longer distances.

Some things are not improved by repetition. The past and our problems don’t get better when we rehearse them for others or even just for ourselves.

I’m a Kinks fan. The same year I was born, this band was formed by two brothers, Ray and Dave Davies. With roots in Skiffle and credited with being the first punks in Punk Rock, The Kinks generated an impressive catalog of work. Many of their lyrics were driven by the problems they saw around them in England as the post war economy began to fade and the social and racial tensions were compounded by lack of opportunity for the working class.

In “Repetition” (off the “Think Visual” album from 1986) Ray writes:

Each day’s a repetition
Of the one that went before
Like watching an old movie
You can’t sit through anymore
Why don’t you kick the habit
And walk right out that door?

As I listened to this song recently, it made me think about the way some people rehearse without any intention of getting better. For them, going over the same ground, same material, same problems, has become a habit. They aren’t trying to make things better; they are just revisiting the painful things in their life. They often want or need other people to be present for their rehearsal. Lucky us. 

Two things seem to be consistent with this behavior. First, the problem or pain is related to someone else’s behavior, and second, there is no solution except for the other person or the situation to change. Often, no solution is given at all. The problem is just laid out for us to witness with the implication being that the person is helpless or at the mercy of others and circumstances. 

In the song, Davies goes on to say: 

Locked inside a prison
But that’s where you wanna be
Stuck in solitary
And you’ve thrown away the key
You say you want your freedom
But you don’t wanna get away 

There is a reality we need to address, and as leaders it is critical that we recognize this. We cannot change other people and we often cannot change the circumstances. In recovery, we learn to acknowledge that “if I am disturbed, the disturbance is in me.” This does not mean that other people have no effect on me, but it does place the responsibility for my serenity and my path forward squarely on my shoulders, where it belongs.

When we are on the shooting range, if we fire a group of rounds at the target and miss the bullseye, we don’t intentionally repeat that performance. We determine what we can do to alter the outcome the next time we fire. One of the things I love about shooting is the instantaneous nature of the feedback. You know immediately if you’ve hit or missed. Good shooters continuously monitor themselves to find ways to improve the outcome of their shooting.

In our personal lives, we can do the same thing. We can view the results of our interactions and efforts and determine how WE can shift in ways that improve them. As leaders, we need to help the people we serve do the same thing. This means that when someone on our team is in the habit of rehearsing the problem instead of finding solutions, we need to help them break that habit. 

Here are three steps we can take:

First, we must make sure we are not guilty of rehearsing the problem too. The culture of an organization is the organic result of the belief system of that organization. The beliefs of the organization are predominantly influenced by leadership. If we complain about and revisit problems without offering solutions or see things as primarily other people’s fault, we will have people around us who do the same.

Second, we can simply ask them what they think the solution to the problem is. Leaders tend to be problem solvers, and it is tempting to step in and try to fix things. However, if the members of our team are going to improve their skills, they need practice in solving problems, not practice in getting others to solve them. It is more caring to allow someone to solve their own problem than it is to rescue them.

The one caveat to the above is if the problem involves someone else making them feel unsafe or harming them physically or emotionally. In that case, it is leadership’s responsibility to correct the situation.

With that exception, the third thing we can do is let them solve the problem and not let them continue to “rehearse” it without offering a solution. This is more difficult and often includes repeating the second step. We must create a culture where it is expected that people will not complain (rehearse) without offering a solution that is process oriented.

We are part of a team that only functions well if the members of the team function well. Notice I said “well” and not “perfectly.” Practice doesn’t make us perfect; but it can make us better. Rehearsing our problems is not practical. Practicing solving our problems with grace and respect leads to real improvement in our products, our processes, and our lives. Taking responsibility for ourselves and respecting the people around us creates a culture where the right kind of practice is practical, and it is The Kimray Way.