By Corbette Doyle and Bill Krueger

Despite the often-subconscious support for the “Great Man” theory, there is little evidence that greatness—in any field—is innate. Instead, research[i] indicates that hard work, as in 10,000 hours of hard work, is required to achieve mastery in business, music, or even athletics. The good news? That means most of us have the opportunity to achieve greatness. The bad news, especially for women who stop out or rank family at least equal to work, is that “time in the seat” may matter.  

He Said (Bill):Why “time in the seat” matters.”

10,000 hours is a long time.  That’s roughly 5 years of working 40 hours a week.  You can squeeze that down by a couple years with 10 hour workdays and a couple Saturdays a month.  I also recommend seeking out experience accelerators by selecting or volunteering for stretch assignments and high visibility projects.  I often tell new employees that they should be looking for assignments that are going to lead our company into the future.  It also helps to seek out and learn from other fast track employees that are well thought of, quickly promoted, and are slightly more experienced than you.  They can pass on tips and shortcuts as well as allow you to travel quickly in their wake.  It takes initiative and a hunger to succeed in order to advance at a faster rate than your peers.  You have to fight through self-doubt and shyness, and be assertive enough to seize and in many cases create your own opportunities.  Your reward is gaining valuable experience well beyond your years without consuming precious time.

She Said (Corbette): Not all experience is created equal.

Bill raises an invaluable point, namely that not all experience is created equal. In fact, research across fields[ii] confirms the old adage that too many people have one year of experience—repeated twenty times. Those hours may add up to 10,000, but that experience won’t get you anywhere you want to go. Instead, become the kind of corporate magician who knows how to generate solutions and get results. What differentiates these “magicians” from the rest? They have what Carol Dweck calls, The Mindset of a Champion and, rather than hide their deficiencies, they focus on overcoming them through deliberate practice to get better at the things that don’t come easily. They seek out the kind of accelerator opportunities Bill describes above or “developmental heat” that involves unfamiliar responsibilities, leading change initiatives, or managing diversity[iii]. While this may well involve leveraging your strengths, a notion popularized by a number of books, that is rarely sufficient. Figure out what’s holding your performance back—and then go out and gain that experience, master that skill, overcome that hurdle because anything you do well today, you can do better tomorrow.

We will talk more throughout this column about strategies for achieving excellence. Meanwhile, we welcome readers’ questions on any topics you are struggling with. In the next column, we’ll discuss strategies for Getting Help to Get Better.

About the Authors:
Corbette Doyle launched her dream career as a lecturer at Vanderbilt University after corporate careers as both an intrapreneur and a Fortune 500 global chief diversity officer. William (“Bill”) Krueger is a senior executive with almost 30 years of experience in the automotive industry and a life-long student of leadership practice.


[i] Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. New York: Penguin Group, 2008, Sources for Chapter two.

[ii] Geoff Colvin, Sources for Chapter One.

[iii] Cynthia D. McCauley and Ellen Van Velsor, The Center for Creative Leadership: Handbook of Leadership Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.