My wife and I are taking ‘Funky West Coast Swing’ dance lessons–-this is a real stretch for me as I have two left feet! Our dance instructor regularly talks about the need to develop ‘muscle memory’. This is what he says:

This is a new skill that you need to develop. You need to find time in between our weekly lessons to practice over and over again. Consistent and intensive practice builds new neurological pathways in our brains or muscle memory. Muscle memory will allow you to dance at the desired level.

There is a great deal of empirical research in the field of neuro-plasticity that supports our dance instructor’s assertion. A great read on this topic is ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’ by Norman Doidge. The research debunks the notion that as we get older our brains tend to be hardwired through permanently connected circuits, each designed to perform a specific unchangeable function. Evidence is emerging that the brain is indeed ‘plastic’ and that new pathways can be developed at any stage of one’s life.

New pathways have a better chance of developing under these circumstances:

– when the skill being trained is closely related to everyday life

– when the skill is learned in increments and repetitively

– the training is intensive and concentrated into a short time frame

Parallels exist between these guidelines and leadership development. When working with leaders we see that the following conditions need to exist for a leader to make progress. A leader needs to:

– work on a goal that will most benefit them and their role and situation

– focus on only one goal or skill at a time

– practice the required behaviour or skill over and over again

– keep the goal and required behaviour in the forefront of their minds (research shows that imagining is as powerful in developing new behaviours as actually doing it)

It’s liberating to know that one can make significant progress in developing new behaviours. And yes, we’ll be practicing our dance routine again tonight.

Nic Tsangarakis, Principal