Personal mastery is a tall order. To the one who thinks of personal mastery as a one-time destination, this goal is all but impossible. To the one who values the ongoing process of lifetime improvement, personal mastery is possible each day. Why? It’s a question of perfection versus excellence.
Personal Mastery as a Destination (perfection) – In this case, mastery means ALWAYS doing the right action at the right time in the right order. No mistakes! In some cases, this standard is necessary. When I used to fly fighters, perfection was the expectation because any less could have killed me or my buddies.
Often a technical skill requires at least some perfection. Nobody wants to hire an electrician who consistently gets the wiring right 80% of the time. You get the idea.
Personal Mastery as a Process (excellence) – For leadership, personal mastery must consider the long-term. Because leadership is a hybrid of art and science, perfection is less relevant because there is more than one right answer to most of the questions. Said another way, acting in an excellent way comes in different shapes, colors and sizes.
Think about your two or three favorite people. Their styles probably differ and yet they all could be considered excellent. That is one of the hallmarks of leadership thinking … there is usually more than one honorable method.
Now let’s talk about success in a personal mastery frame. There are five key parts to success for the person who wants to live in excellence.
- Treating others well
Before we explore the five ideas, here is one other important concept. In each category, there are seemingly opposed ideas. The person who embraces mastery will make measurable progress at not only balancing the competing demands but at combining the opposing forces for great solutions. In short, think balance plus AND-solutions.
Definition: Emotions, feeling, moods, passions, and desires.
We are all creatures of emotion … whether we show it or not. It feels good to have somebody like us. It’s not fun when someone treats us like dirt. Work can be frustrating, exhilarating, mundane, or fulfilling. Notice how those are all emotions. Even the most macho guy in the audience will experience emotions. He will at least let you know when he’s mad.
If you’re still skeptical, have you ever acted on ‘gut-instinct’? Have you ever said, ‘something just doesn’t feel right.’ Even the most logical among us have emotional responses to life.
So here’s the challenge. How does one not be rash or overly emotional in decision-making but still honor the very real data that comes in by way of emotions? Think I’m still stretching this? Here’s an example.
If I plan to hire someone for childcare and that person’s record and credentials check out fine but I am uneasy about the person for some unknown reason, what will I do? Unless I can find more facts to disprove my ‘feeling,’ I will likely not hire this person. The risk is just too high. And yet look how I used emotion to make the decision.
On the other hand, if I need to face a subordinate over an ethical issue at work, my gut is probably unhappy. My emotion might say this isn’t the greatest or most fun thing to do. In my heart-of-hearts though, I know I must stand up for what is right and go ahead with the confrontation. Why did I disregard the emotion in this case?
Mastery of the heart is becoming self-aware enough to recognize all the different emotions in any given situation and assigning meaning to this emotional data. The emotion is valid but cannot be the end-all. Emotional or heart mastery means I will not allow one emotion to over-shadow the others or overwhelm pure logic without a very good reason.
Definition: Thinking long-term, focused on outcomes and consequences, and law of the harvest.
I suspect most of us want to leave the world a little better than the way we found it. That is a natural instinct. It is important to think long-term and consider consequences. All choices have consequences. At times the results may be so very small, we hardly notice. Other times, the outcomes are significant and make us pause at the decision point.
While thinking of the long-term is important, it can also cause an otherwise reasonable person to freeze in the face of difficult decisions. Whoever coined the phrase, ‘analysis paralysis’ understood this. Sometimes, activity is an excuse to avoid making a decision.
There must be a balance all along the timeline. I need to think short-term to be decisive in the moment. I need to consider the medium and long-term for consequences of choices made today. Too much time in the present causes me to ignore the natural results but too much time thinking on the future may cause indecision or no decision now.
At times, we will hear of a public servant who begins to over-focus on his or her legacy. Invariably, this leads to bad decisions. The reason is, thinking about legacy too much means becoming too concerned about what other people think. Legacy has its place but just as all the other areas, it must stay in its place.
The other extreme is just as damaging. Giving no thought for tomorrow makes a terrible landing place when tomorrow arrives in all its disastrous glory! A young child, for instance, gives little or no thought to consequences. It is common for this little one to be very self-centered and thinking only about the present.
The person of mastery understands the extremes and middle ground of legacy. Those who would master legacy take all parts of this area into intentional account but do not over-focus on any single piece. Mastery is being good at living in the here-and-now AND consistently thinking about consequences.
Next week we will explore the remaining three areas of personal mastery. All the best to you!
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