Today’s post is the featured article from the August 2012 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

john-newOver the last month, thousands of football players have returned to the gridiron. Actually, from youth to the pros in the NFL, they have returned to the practice fields … to practice. They don’t just show up at the first game and hope their incredible athletic ability will carry them through to victory.

No. They practice and practice … and then practice some more. Day-in and day-out. Some would say practice makes perfect. But that is not exactly true. Yet practice does make us better. And over the course of numerous practices the team begins to get in a rhythm.

Things start to click!

Not perfectly. There is progression, but not without setbacks. There are two steps forward and one step back. Then two sprints forward. A spectacular catch and then a dropped ball. An amazing run followed by a fumble on the tackle. And that’s just on the practice field! But the more they practice, the more they move towards being the best they can be.

No coach would ever expect a team to be at their best without practice … and more practice. So why would any CEO ever expect their leadership team could ever go away for an executive retreat, even with the best intentions, to develop a set of organizational core values and come back and have those values immediately embraced and lived?

A great coach knows they must inspire their team. But that coach also knows there will be practice after practice. And that coach knows there will be fumbles, dropped passes, interceptions and defeats. There is no question, they’re not happy about them. But they don’t give-up and just move-on. They keep practicing!

They learn and keep-on.

And so it goes in developing, communicating, living and holding yourself and then others accountable to both organizational and personal core values. In concept, it is not complicated. In staying the course to make it happen … well, it gets a little messy. It also takes large doses of patience, persistence, commitment and courage.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell analyzes what lies behind the outliers … those who really excel in their chosen field. In typical Gladwell fashion, he invites you to look from a number of different angles. One of the angles is the impact of 10,000 hours. His premise is that it is not until we have practiced or done something for 10,000 hours that we position ourselves to be the outlier.

It certainly holds true for coaches and corporate leaders. And it holds true for building organizational value with core values. It takes hours upon hours of practice to get that rhythm. To win a game. To change a culture.

Coaches don’t practice because they’re terrified of losing. They practice to win. They practice to achieve what’s possible. And so it should be for leaders. Core values are not a set of rules or regulations. They are a deep driving inspiration that brings us to life and allows individuals and whole organizations to realize what’s possible. It is not a duty. It is the roadmap to opportunity. It is not the mission. It is what drives the mission. But like practice, they come with a cost.

Most meaningful investments usually do.

Maybe this gives us one angle in explaining why so many organizations struggle with realizing the value of core values. Most organizational leaders never get to the 10,000 hour-mark of intentionally practicing their personal and organizational core values day-in and day-out. We, unintentionally, give up long before then. Or, worse yet, we come back from the leadership retreat expecting to go directly to the game and it will all work out. We need to come back from the leadership retreat and go to the weight room and the practice field … again and again. And when we do … slowly, but surely, the chemistry of the environment and eventually the team begins to change.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. But practice, done well, opens the door for tremendous possibilities. It opens the door for every coach, every player, every leader, and every employee to realize their greatest potential. Our core is that door … if leaders find the courage and the discipline to open it and step inside. It is there where any leader can eventually find themselves standing on the sidelines coaching the success of others.

And, ultimately, it is there that any leader will realize they have been scripting their legacy one practice at a time.