Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”― Muhammad Ali
An organization is an intangible thing, an invisible repository of will and competence; organizations exist in the thin ether of our actions and values. But there is nothing abstract about the people who make them up. They dream, worry, attend meetings, call on customers, and phone home. You can weigh them, poll them, and clock them. It makes sense that when an organization learns, the locus of that learning is the individual and groups of individuals.
The term “personal mastery” may just be another way of saying “learning,” but I must be clear about the kind of learning I mean. It is not just the accumulation of technical and functional information, but the wise and beneficial use of that information. This is an important qualification, because it introduces the issues of self-knowledge and personal values. Here is where we find the answer to the riddle of the learning organization and the reason that the learning organization (as a whole, functioning entity) is so important.
Transcending Our Inherent and Learned Limitations
“The last thing we learn about ourselves is our effect.”- Ben Kizer, one of the great civic leaders . Personal mastery entails honing our effectiveness in the world through brave self-observation. It also involves creating a high-tension energy field in one’s life by facing the truth of current reality and boldly envisioning something different: a future of one’s choosing. The creative tension is where the juice of mastery comes from.
Through the ages, sages have testified to the virtues of the examined life and lamented a mind left untended. The following are the observations of three of them.
Those who know much about others may be smart, but those who understand themselves are even wiser.—Lao Tsu
You could drop a leaflet or a Hubbard squash on the head of any person in any land and you would almost certainly hit a brain that was whirling in small, conventional circles. There is something about the human mind that keeps it well within the confines of the parish, and only one outlook in a million is nonparochial.—E.B. Whit
I truly believe that “personal mastery” is as good a name for the lesson as any. Liberating ourselves from the conditioned, automatic responses to life that endlessly loop us into the same frustrations is one of the hardest things that we can ever attempt. Accepting the need for this is a recognition of what it means to be human. Dealing with this reality is always worth the effort, because even the smallest successes are immediately rewarded with proportionally greater personal freedom. This, in turn, leads to greater creativity, productivity, satisfaction, joy, and expanded life possibilities.
Although the task is difficult, people regularly accomplish even greater goals. Changing one’s world view, says Livingston, is actually easier than overcoming chemical dependence, and people break such deadly habits all the time.
The Effect in Organizations
One person inside an organization ( a trainer) on the trail of personal mastery would be good news for that organization. Think of the ripple effect. Two people would be even better, and the implications of ten people struggling with the ways of personal mastery are even more exciting because of the dynamics of critical mass. The cumulative rate at which individuals within the organization change themselves in pursuit of personal mastery defines the rate at which the organization can change.
Personal mastery is very personal, revolving as it does around the unique mechanisms of the mind. It is challenging enough at the personal level. In the organization, the challenge is compounded not just by numbers but by the fact that no one can choose the pursuit of personal mastery for us; we must choose it for ourselves. Nevertheless, it is a challenge that people and organizations must face if they are to survive individually and collectively. Organizational leaders who have the courage to confront this issue will need all the help they can get from the training profession.
The challenge can be described as follows:
- Because of the rapidity of technological change and global competition, becoming a learning organization is now the real ante of doing business.
- The pursuit of personal mastery by individuals is the essence of the learning organization.
Unfortunately, the practice of personal mastery by an organization’s employees remains a taboo subject for management. A manager who addresses an employee with, “Excuse me, but I think you need to improve your personal mastery” will likely be as welcome as a religious pamphleteer at the door on Saturday morning. As Peter Drucker says, managers have no business messing with their employees’ minds. I must disagree with Drucker. Although I believe that organizations should not stick their noses into the private lives of their employees, I do not think that you can separate the person’s work from the person.
The notion that we have a work life and a personal life is a dangerous illusion. Each of us has one mind, one body, and one spirit, and we take them with us wherever we go. We do a lot of messing with one another’s minds; it may constitute the majority of human affairs. Every time a manager says “Thank you” or “You did it wrong again” to an employee, the manager is messing with the employee’s mind. Every bonus paid, every new team assembled, every reorganization effort is an exercise in messing with minds. The challenge, again, is to do it responsibly.
By practicing personal mastery as individuals, trainers and other HRD professionals will make their practice more forceful than any sermons they could ever preach on the subject. Happily, the discipline of it will almost inevitably confine one to constructive, ethical interaction with others.
The question is “How do you pursue personal mastery?”Components of the Discipline
The answer is that the biological and psychological force of habit is so great that you must have a discipline.
The personal-mastery technology I propose (O’Brien & Shook, 1995) rests on four adaptive skills:
Raising consciousness – means not just thinking, but thinking about thinking: noticing and managing the workings of your mind so that your mind will not run away with you like a startled horse.
Imagining- When you “imagine,” you create a mental picture—the most vivid image you can—of an outcome you desire. It works, and you do it all the time. If you are typical, however, most of the imagining you do goes by the name “worry.” This most common form of imagining leads not to something you want but to something you do not want, and it works depressingly well.
Framing and reframing – are the foundation of human experience and the essence of personal freedom. They mean interpreting the world, deriving meaning, and assigning significance to the events of life. When the Greek Stoic Epictetus noted two-thousand years ago that it is not the events of life that matter but our opinion of them, he was talking about framing and reframing. You do not have to think about anything in any particular way, but some ways of thinking about things are more helpful than others. Learning to frame and reframe means learning to see things in the most helpful light.
Integrating new perspectives. – What we see depends on where we stand. And where we stand—that is, the view of the world our senses present to us—is profoundly influenced by the biases of our families of origin and the hands that fate has dealt us. However, each of us is not stuck with just one world view. We can get new ones any time by learning to integrate the perspectives of others. In this sense, the points of view of other people rank among life’s most priceless gifts.
The Impact of Personal Mastery – It probably is not possible for someone to engage in these activities without impacting events around them, without creating powerful and effective relationships with others. But any words that someone who pursues personal mastery could speak about these things would be pale next to the things themselves. In the story of Pinocchio, it is the master’s love and the behavior of love that brings the puppet to life. It may be that way with personal mastery. Only to the extent that we are willing to step into these practices and give them life do they have the potential to shape our destinies and those of the organizations we form.
All this is a matter of considerable importance to organizational leaders, to trainers, and to organizations. Many organizations currently are trying to change themselves from the outside in, by reengineering new organizational forms into existence in the hope that structure alone equals performance. I doubt that it does. The catalyst missing from such efforts is the inside-out change offered by personal mastery. I doubt that the best team players can be made by teaching the external strategies of teamwork alone. To be constructive members of a team, people must examine their attitudes about collaborating with others, resolving conflict, coping with mistakes (their own and others’), dealing with anger and fear, and so on. That comes from the never-ending pursuit of personal mastery.
When the leaders of an organization sincerely embrace personal mastery themselves, they will automatically begin shifting the parent-child relationship between management and workers to adult-adult relationships. Although the former is still the dominant organizational paradigm, it is the latter that holds the power to drive truly empowered workers and an organization that is capable of continuous learning and fluid response to a dynamic marketplace.
…Just a few thoughts