The video below (if you haven’t seen it) may just blow your mind. It’s Aretha Franklin performing late last month at the Kennedy Center Honors. (You can start at about 1:02 in):
What Aretha’s got is sprezzatura.
Sprezzatura is an Italian word that roughly translates as ‘the seeming effortlessness in action that conceals the effort needed to take that action.’
Aretha makes singing this song seem as though it’s the easiest thing in the world. You don’t see her striving or exerting strain to make anything work. It just seems to flow from her with grace and perfection.
The basketball legend Julius Erving (Dr. J) once explained in an interview how he’d constantly be stopped by strangers on the street who complimented him on his “amazing natural basketball talents”. He went on to say that:
While I appreciated the recognition, I always thought it was funny that they talked about ‘natural basketball talent’. I guess that’s all they saw on the TV when I was playing. What they didn’t see were the hours and days and months and years I spent practicing in an empty gym to keep getting better. The only reason I amounted to anything was because I always demanded more of myself than anyone else ever expected of me.
Dr. J’s description aligns strongly with the “10,000 Hour Rule” of deliberate practice first put forth by Anders Ericsson and popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. This “Rule” has never been empirically proven as a universal law, but the underlying principle remains that if you want to get better at something, working at it is a good idea.
Great performers (in any discipline) display a level of mastery that transcends the effort needed to get to that level. This is what makes these performers so captivating to watch. Look at Aretha Franklin: she moves to a standing ovation more than a minute before she’s even finished.
Let this shining example of mastery and sprezzatura be an inspiration for us all.
As you look to a new year of leadership, what areas would you like to show off your sprezzatura? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.