In “The Talent Code“, Daniel Coyle defines a model for high performance that examined ‘Talent Hotbeds’ around the world. A common theme in these places was the struggle that is inherent in the learning and talent development process. Organizations can create a high performance environment by utilizing the three key elements found in a talent hotbed: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching.

Deep Practice

Deep practice can be broken down into three phases: chunking, repetition, and recognition. Coyle uses the example of a student learning to play a new instrument. The student must first break the music down into smaller sections, practice repeatedly, and recognize that they are in a state of deep practice.  This ‘deep practice’ can be applied to learning a new role, or taking on a new task in an organization.

The idea that practice makes perfect is a myth. The truth is, practice makes permanent. In order to engage in effective deep practice, you need to ensure you are practicing the right behaviours so that when you make errors – you can correct them.


Successful deep practice requires motivational fuel. Ignition is what triggers that motivation.  It can be internal ignition where motivation comes from wanting to achieve a personal goal; or external ignition, like growing up in an undesirable neighborhood that you struggle to get out of.

As a leader, you can ignite your employees to engage in deep practice. An effective way to to do this is to track performance progress. A one-page role scorecard, defining objectively the key performance metrics and standards, can provide the clarity needed to motivate employees.

Master Coaching

Anyone who has taught a child to learn something – how to ride a bike, skate, or play an instrument – knows that struggling and doing it badly at first, is just part of the process.

Master Coaches have the knowledge to recognize struggle and connect with their students so that this struggle can translate to success. Master coaches understand how much to push someone based on their skill set. Most importantly, they recognize what high performance behaviour looks like.  

The Power of Struggle

To build a talent hotbed, an effective leader knows how to use struggle as a tool for improving employees without overwhelming them.

As leaders in our companies, communities, and families, we need to put the power of struggle to work. We need to avoid the tendency to ‘rescue’ the people around us, and instead let them struggle, or maybe even fail (safely), in order for them to build skill, tenacity, and greatness.

Article by Tim O’Connor