Coaching Skills: Virtuosity

Master the basics yourself. Systemize them for your staff. Optimize outcomes over time, but do them forever.

One of the hardest skills for entrepreneurs to practice is virtuosity. This is simply a mastery of the fundamentals instead of trying to do every new idea that comes along.

High-level performers in golf, for example, work on their basic swing for years; novices buy new equipment. This is true in most sports. Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, used the gymnastics definition of virtuosity: performing the common uncommonly well.

For example, a gym owner should work to master their skill in selling their program before attempting to “flood their gym” with marketing. But the siren song of “leads! leads! leads!” is strong enough to distract most of them.

Likewise, a gym owner should develop their staff to make them all an 8/10 as coaches, instead of employing a few “3s” and one “9”. This includes evaluations and feedback–uncomfortable processes that many gym owners forget or ignore.

Entrepreneurs in any service business should develop the skill of asking for referrals, nurturing leads, and creating content before considering a TikTok account…but most lack the discipline to master the basics, because the lure of novelty is so strong.

One of the challenges of mastering the basics is that it gets boring. Who wants to do another sales roleplay when they could shoot an Instagram reel or record a podcast? It’s tempting to be the first to try (and talk about) a new idea, be an early adopter, or tell your friends how to do the new thing. This is the curse of the novice.

In a letter to coaches around the world, Glassman wrote, “There is a compelling tendency among novices developing any skill or art, whether learning to play the violin, write poetry, or compete in gymnastics, to quickly move past the fundamentals and on to more elaborate, more sophisticated movements, skills, or techniques. This compulsion is the novice’s curse—the rush to originality and risk.”

He went on to describe the “novice’s curse”– manifested as “excessive adornment, silly creativity, weak fundamentals and, ultimately, a marked lack of virtuosity and delayed mastery.”

This is equally true in business. Focusing on building a Facebook ads campaign before a consistent sales process means a lot of wasted time on cold leads, poor conversion and burnout. Worse, it’s hard to learn to be a better sales person if the pitch is different every time, because the entrepreneur can’t see what’s working with clarity.

What are the basics every entrepreneur should master?

Reading a P&L

Getting client referrals

Consistent delivery of their service by their staff

Selling their product

Client communications

Staff evaluations

Content creation

…and more.

It’s important to note that “mastery” of any of these is nearly impossible. But most entrepreneurs can grow their business faster by improving the fundamentals than by adding new strategies or tactics.

For example, every entrepreneur should know how to read a Profit and Loss statement (P&L). Even basic familiarity will help an entrepreneur understand how their business is doing. But the pursuit of mastery–asking questions of the bookkeeper, thinking about classifications, identifying opportunities, and putting in lots of reps–will grow their business faster than searching for new trends on social media. The P&L should create focus for a business owner, which is the first step to growth.

As another example, a business owner who can improve their close rate by 10% will grow their business faster than an owner who increases their ad spend. Ads take time to ramp up; time to optimize; and require constant monitoring. When they begin to slow down, they have to be retooled and the process begins again. But sales is different: performing better with every lead will multiply the value of all future advertising. But most entrepreneurs skip from platform to platform; make small investments in each; and then move to the next when their ads “don’t work”.

The basics never go away. Mastering them is more important than learning something new, but the pull of novelty is strong. Our job, as coaches and mentors, is to teach the basics and then revisit them with the entrepreneurs we serve. Of course we can’t ignore the fun new stuff. But novelty must always be balanced with the pursuit of virtuosity in the fundamentals.

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