How To Go "Tiger Mother" On Your Job Performance

Last Updated Jan 24, 2011 10:14 AM EST

Like, oh, every parent in the Western hemisphere, I read Amy Chua's recent essay in the Wall Street Journal on "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” People were appalled at the screaming, the insults -- though perhaps equally appalling is how few people realized what her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is about. Namely, Chua's evolution as a mother, particularly as one of her daughters rebelled against her "Chinese" style.

That said, one point of Chua's essay deserves to be embroidered on a pillow. She writes:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work... if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something--whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet--he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun.
This doesn't just apply to children.
No one expects her job to be fun all the time, but sometimes parts aren't fun because we haven't mastered them. You may dislike giving presentations. But most professional speakers quite enjoy sharing their messages with audiences. Perhaps they're naturally gifted this way, but more likely, they've practiced more than you have. When you practice, you learn what lines resonate. An engaged audience is more fun to speak to. And so the virtuous cycle continues.
The stereotypical "Chinese” parent forces a child to practice until it pays off. Perhaps you've got a boss who rides hard on you to improve. But many professional jobs rely more on self-discipline than parental-style scolding. So this raises the question: can you go "Tiger Mother” on your own job performance?
I'd say sure -- with a few steps:
  1. Figure out what parts of your job can -- and should -- be practiced. Do people yawn during your presentations? Do they seem confused after reading your memos? If we're honest with ourselves, we tend to know what we're lousy at, or what we do adequately, but could do much better.
  2. Hunt for feedback. Work your network until you find experts and regular people who are critical but effective. Videotape a presentation or send around your writing samples. Study what people say -- paying special attention to the bad stuff.
  3. Carve out time for practice. We're all busy. We're all tired. So what? Get to work early and practice your speaking skills in an empty conference room. Instead of watching TV after your kids go to bed, study industry white papers to figure out what works and what doesn't.
  4. Repetition makes perfect. Twice? Three times? How about a hundred? Your elevator pitch won't be fun until you can say it in your sleep. But once you've rehearsed it cold, you'll relax and enjoy yourself -- and watch the accolades roll in.
How has practice made your job performance better over time?
Photo courtesy flickr user, Keith Roper

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