“Those who are passionate about performance must be passionate about critique and practice.”
-Ron Mumm, Lt. Col. USAF (ret.)
As a professional in high-tech for almost 30 years, and having worked at various levels in the industry from shipping dock, to analyst, to engineer, to marketing, to sales, to management, one thing that has always been very important to me is leadership. I’ve read tons of books on the subject and attended several seminars on honing my leadership skills. Right now, I’m reading a fantastic book called, “Leading with Honor,” by Lee Ellis, who shares his story of being a POW during the Vietnam War and sharing the leadership lessons he learned from his years of incarceration.
I got the quote above from the latest chapter I’m reading called, “Develop Your People.” When I read that sentence, it hit me like a ton of bricks, for to me, it distilled down to its very essence, that which makes us successful at anything.
In that statement, it’s not just practice that makes us better, but also being open to critique. Feedback allows us to gauge how well we’re doing. Feedback gives us a compass on our performance. Some of the best leaders I’ve worked with over the years have been great about taking critique from others, be it their peers or even those who work for them.
But that statement isn’t just limited to leadership situations. It applies to practically everything we do in our lives; even with playing guitar or some other musical instrument. If you play out, you can practice all you want in a closed environment, but you really have no gauge on how well you’re doing until you get feedback either from your audience or your bandmates.
I practice guitar practically every day; not necessarily doing exercises, but also honing my performance skills. Since I mostly play solo, it’s important for me to have a clean performance, so I make sure that I’ve got my playing – and singing – down. But I’m also big on getting feedback, so I regularly ask the management at the restaurant I work at how well I’ve performed, and even ask customers if there’s something they’d rather hear me play or if something bothered them. Over the years, it has helped me hone the style of music I play in my sets, and helped me calibrate what’s appropriate to do in a song with respect to modulation or playing licks. After all, who measures quality? My customers.