It seems as long as I can remember, I’ve been captivated by men and women who are at the top of their game – whether professional athletes, CEOs, doctors or artists. Do you ever wonder how they reached their elite status? What do you call “it” when you see it? I call it mastery.
What is mastery? As George Leonard describes in his book, Mastery, “…it resists definition but is instantly recognizable.”
Mastery could be described as the seemingly effortless, consistently excellent execution of a desired behavior. Have you ever wondered if you could achieve mastery as a leader? If so, what would you have to do?”
If you believe Malcolm Gladwell, you might try to invest 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. The only problem with his theory is we all know people who’ve invested far more than that, and rather than mastery, all they’ve achieved is mediocrity.
If the answer is not 10,000 hours, perhaps we could take Geoff Colvin’s advice as outlined in his excellent book, Talent is Overrated. He suggests time on task is NOT the key. He does believe time is required but time invested in a more strategic fashion – he calls it deliberate practice. He may be on to something. But how do we know how to practice? And, is it just practice that leads to mastery? I don’t think so.
I like George Leonard’s point of view on this topic. He outlines a process that makes sense to me from the ball field to the boardroom. Here’s a quick overview of what he calls the Five Master Keys:
Instruction – The self-taught are rarely on the path to mastery. It is not impossible, but rare, to see someone you would consider a master in any endeavor who achieved that station without a teacher, trainer or coach.
Practice – According to Leonard, practice, to the master, is not a verb but a noun. Practice is not something you do but who you are. For me, it requires a little effort to wrap my head around this one. The master doesn’t practice just to improve; he values the practice itself.
Surrender – To move forward, we must be willing to surrender to our teacher and sacrifice our current proficiency to go to another level. We must be willing to surrender to the process of growth.
Intentionality – In Leonard’s model, this is the mental aspect of the journey. This is where we focus our mind and our body on the desired outcome. It’s what Jack Nicklaus was talking about when he said only 10% of his success was attributed to his golf swing.
The Edge – Although the men and women Leonard describes are most often fanatical about the fundamentals, they are also the ones to push the envelope and stretch the boundaries in pursuit of new levels of performance. They push themselves to do and be more.
You may be wondering, “If I do these things, will I achieve mastery?” According to Leonard, mastery is actually not something you “achieve.” It is not a destination, it is a journey. As such, all that is required is a decision and the discipline to stay on the path – anyone can join the master’s journey.
So the real question is one of intent. How good do you want to be? Should we commit our life and leadership to the way of mastery? For me, the answer is a stewardship issue. I believe we’ll all be held accountable some day for what we did with all that was entrusted to us. Therefore, mastery is the only path I want to walk. How about you?
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