The 10,000 Hour Rule was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in 2011 as he adroitly analyzed the commonalities of high achievers in his 2011 book Outliers. He discovered that regardless of field of study or profession, it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. Gladwell’s research led him to study a wide variety of professions ranging from musical prodigies to tech moguls, rock stars to elite doctors, professional athletes and many other professions. In every instant, Gladwell chronicles the predominant factor which led to the success of those who rose to the top of their profession was a devotion to their craft which led to thousands of hours engaged in practice. In short, natural talent does not correlate to to high achievement nearly as significantly as sustained rehearsal. While Gladwell does not simplify his theory to the following degree, we could use the equation below to summarize Gladwell’s hypothesis:
THE MASTRY EQUATION
Practice + Duration = Level of Mastery
Perhaps greatness is so rare because we tend to lack the discipline, fortitude, endurance and determination required to last through the highs, lows, miss steps and doldrums that exist around every turn on the journey to 10,000 hours of practice.
Another thing to consider when assessing Gladwell’s concept is that mastery alone actually helps leaders very little. While 10,000 hours of practice will certainly help a violinist achieve virtuosity and an athlete perform precise and significant feats physical prowess, rehearsal alone does little to ensure leadership efficacy or impact. We have all experienced highly competent leaders with myriad skills and yet they failed to lead with any semblance of impact or efficacy. For a better understanding of this we must continue on our journey through the book of Ezra.
Ezra himself arrives on the scene half way through the book, after the temple construction was completed. He comes from a esteemed lineage, tracing his ancestry back 16 generations to Aaron, the first High Priest of Israel. Ezra was a young man who had clearly received formal education in the laws of the nation. “He was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses…” (Ezra 7:6a). The root word for “skilled” in the ancient Hebrew language is “mahiyr”. The Strong Concordance includes among the definitions of this word, “diligent” and “ready“. Clearly Ezra was a man of tremendous skill, honed over years of practice. One might assume he was the beneficiary of the 10,000 Hour Rule.
The text goes on to detail how Ezra’s skill granted him access and position in the royal court. We read that his abilities caught the eye of Artaxerxes, the king of all of Persia as Ezra practiced and taught law in the capital city of Babylon. We read, “…the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him” (Ezra 7:6b). Clearly his skills gained him access to influential corridors of power. But notice the unlimited favor of King Artaxerxes was not earned by mere skill alone. The favor of the king is was granted “for the hand of the LORD his God was on him” (emphasis mine).
It was Ezra’s skill that gained him access, and it was the hand of God that gained him favor. While Gladwell’s theory certainly helps us quantify what it takes to achieve mastery level skill, it falls short of helping us understand the full picture and potential of a life of diligent practice in pursuit of mastery in the arena of leadership impact. A more holistic equation would be as follows:
THE LEADERSHIP IMPACT EQUATION
(Practice + Duration) x God’s Favor = Leadership Impact
Similar to Gladwell’s findings, the life journey of Ezra inspires us to understand that natural abilities or genetic tendencies are not the guiding factor in the development of impactful leadership. Literally anyone can have profound leadership impact in their situation, if they are willing spend the time required to achieve the level of mastery necessary to gain position and influence. However, it is clear that if we want to have significant impact for God we must also seek to have His hand resting on us, guiding us and preparing the way forward.
In our next post we will look closely at the four spiritual disciplines Ezra engaged in, which seem to have invited the hand of God to rest on him and ultimately led to the favor bestowed on this incredibly faithful servant of God.
Great leader choose to relentlessly practice their craft!