An unfortunate concept in business is the myth of the overnight success. It's easy to see people build successful companies and be led to believe they miraculously excelled due to a combination of brilliance, timing and talent.
However, this thinking overlooks a big part of the story, possibly in an attempt to make ourselves feel better about our accomplishments and level of effort. All great achievements, even accelerated ones, are the result of an enormous amount of work behind the scenes.
A perfect example comes from the upcoming Super Bowl. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is known for doing the impossible on Sundays. Whether he's launching no-look passes to open receivers or throwing left-handed to convert a difficult third down, he seems to pull miraculous feats out of midair.
Mahomes is one of the most talented quarterbacks in football, but his talent isn't the only reason for his success. Reporters have documented how Mahomes practices extremely difficult passes regularly during Chiefs training sessions. It's only after Mahomes has perfected his improbable throws through repetition that he has the confidence to attempt them in an actual game.
The real difference between elite athletes and most business leaders is that the athletes practice much more than they actually play. The same is true for most world-class performers-- what you see in public has been done hundreds of times in private.
That said, here are three lessons to take from the NFL and its leaders like Mahomes to up your own game as a leader.
Practice should be hard.
Each team in the NFL play only one game in a week, and it's often-cited that the average football game contains only 11 minutes of actual gameplay. A team puts an entire week's worth of preparation meetings and on-field practices into 11 minutes of actual performance on gameday.
This ratio is the key to high-performance in other fields as well. Whether you're preparing for a strategy meeting, a pitch to a client or investors, or a keynote speech, the big event itself shouldn't be the hardest part of the process. If you dedicate the time and effort to preparing, the actual performance will seem easier in comparison.
Iron out the details.
It's often said that, "perfect practice makes perfect." If you're running through a speech or walking through the agenda for a conference, it's crucial not to rush through with minimal effort and gloss over the minor details of the task.
Instead, use preparation time as a chance to scrutinize your plan and identify potential flaws in a low-risk environment. The New Orleans Saints, who have been a model NFL organization for over a decade, use practice time to make adjustments to their offensive plays, including tiny changes like moving receivers a foot closer together before a play, or changing the angle of passing routes to create more space.
Don't go into an important meeting or discussion having not put in the work beforehand, hoping everything will go perfectly the first time. Rather, every leader should scrutinize possible flaws and ask people they trust to observe and look for mistakes as well. Ironing out these small details will help ensure things go as well as possible when the real situation arrives.
Practice makes performers 'clutch.'
One of the most widely celebrated facets of sports is the thrill of watching a great athlete come through with absolutely everything on the line. When fans see Tom Brady coolly drive the Patriots to a Super Bowl winning score, they assume those stars have an intangible "clutch," quality that drives them to success.
It's true that these types of performers excel under pressure because they are unphased by the intensity of the environment. However, the reason they are so composed under pressure is because they've practiced their skills so repeatedly and precisely that they can execute as if nobody else is watching when the big moment comes.
When you see someone smoothly navigate a challenging client-meeting or deliver a speech to thousands of people without breaking a sweat, be aware that and enormous amount of preparation was put into that performance.
While world-class athletes are often defined by their natural talents, the very best ones set themselves apart by putting in hours of strenuous, thoughtful practice behind the scenes. This is true in all walks of life--the more you practice, the better you do.