Leadership, Life

Reprinted from Mike Morrison’s fantastic email newsletter (November 4, 2009); you can subscribe here.

In this series we are exploring the moments that matter most to leaders. This week we explore moments of mastery.

Think of the key capability areas that define your work. In other words, your job may require planning, sales, or the preparation of food. How would you rate yourself in these key areas?

  1. I am new to this area — I’m just a novice.
  2. I am fully competent and have achieved the highest levels of knowledge and expertise — people think of me as an expert.
  3. I have achieved mastery — my tacit knowledge and love for my work goes way beyond that of the expert.

In reality, most of us bounce between the novice stage and the expert stage — lacking both the time, focus and discipline to achieve the status of a true master.

That’s too bad, because the path toward mastery is not only critical to achieving a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in our lives — it is essential to creating meaningful change as a leader. Moments of ordinary make up our daily lives, serving as a huge barrier to cultivating our true potential. It only takes a few moments to look around and see how much of what we do is “average” in nature, drawing down our energy and our personal vision of what’s possible in our lives.

The true leader creates a special relationship with their work. The “relationship” metaphor is critical to note — because their work speaks to them in ways that most will never experience. We see this more clearly with the artist or the master chef. Their expertise and creativity flows in ways that is hard for us to comprehend.

As we hear them talk, we are mystified at the language they use. It is a language that reveals the intimacy of their work — and their love for it. As we all know, when we do something out of love, there is no need for acceptance or recognition by others.

But here is the key insight about mastery. We tend to think of the process of achieving mastery in terms of a “huge” time commitment — 10,000 hours predicts one expert. It may be true — but it is the wrong focus. Mastery is not something to be achieved, like a degree. It is an on-going process — a love affair — that plays out every day. It requires the discipline of developing and protecting moments of mastery in each day. Like the artist or chef, it is who we are and what we do — not something we schedule in.

It is also not the acquisition of new and improved skills. Rather, we gain a depth of understanding that changes how we see life. Pablo Picasso probably said it best:

“Always you put more of yourself into your work, until one day, you never know exactly which day, it happens, you are your work.”

NOTE: If you are unfamiliar with the reference, the “10,000 hours” is in reference to a topic covered in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.


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