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Jones: Finding your way to Carnegie Hall

Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, March 8, 2013 8:04 p.m. CDT

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? While many versions of this classic question abound, the answer always remains the same: Practice, practice, practice. The dream of performing at Carnegie Hall, that world-class concert venue, continues to drive young musicians to excel.

Practice, practice, practice. This simple truth was recently reinforced for me when the wind ensemble my daughter is a member of was invited to Carnegie Hall as the featured performing group at a music festival showcasing collegiate wind ensembles. For these young men and women, their performance at Carnegie represented the culmination of years of hard work.

I thought back to my daughter’s earliest days in beginner band and that first concert that honestly only a family member or a dedicated music educator could enjoy. I recalled the many teachers, mentors and role models that each played a part in her musical development over the years. It was evident when looking back over her personal journey just how important regular practice had been and will continue to be in order to acquire and maintain the skills needed to perform proficiently.

Practice, practice, practice. This same dedication certainty applies for each of us as we work to build leadership skills. As leadership skills are first being learned it can be a little bit like that fifth-grade band concert, there will be some squeaks and squawks, things won’t quite be in tune and there probably will be some timing issues. Yet, alongside the discord is that glimmer of the potential that may be possible at some point in the future.

Just like a young musician, a developing leader needs teachers, mentors and role models who can point the way and the opportunity to practice skills in a safe environment. It’s no accident that the word “practice” is repeated three times in the old saying. Skill development requires repetition and an environment where failure is recognized as an essential step on the path to mastery.

Proficiency certainly doesn’t happen overnight. In his book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” Malcolm Gladwell introduced what has come to be known as the 10,000-hour rule. In short, Gladwell demonstrated that it requires approximately 10,000 hours or about 10 years of practice to achieve world-class expertise in any given field. The practice that Gladwell is talking about is not just mindless repetition; it is a constant striving for improvement. Development of this level of expertise requires the intentionality of working to improve things you are not good at rather than merely repeating areas of strength.

From personal experience I have found that while constant nagging worked as a short-term tool to compel a young musician to practice, there were no lasting results until there was personal commitment. The effective practice of leadership skills requires discipline, concentration and the willingness to push outside an exsisting comfort zone to improve capabilities – to define your own Carnegie Hall experience.

The McHenry County College Workforce Training Program provides training resources to guide emerging leaders on their journey. Using curriculum from Development Dimensions International, an evening session of the Supervisory Leadership Series will begin on March 20. This eight-week course introduces core leadership concepts and provides the nurturing environment learners need to further their development of leadership skills.

• Catherine Jones is executive director of workforce, community and business programs for McHenry County College’s Shah Center. She can be reached at 815-459-7752 or at cjones@mchenry.edu.

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