“Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organizational learning occurs.”
I read that this morning at about 3:00 am when I started my day because I couldn’t sleep. This was an example as I talked about in my post the other day about increasing productivity for tomorrow by preparing the night before. My dog woke me up, and I tossed around for about ten minutes before I just got up and started reading. I’m glad I did.
(Click here or on the play button below to listen to this post)
The quote is from Peter Senge in an amazingly powerful book, The Fifth Discipline. It is all about how organizations should think in order to be successful for the long run. I love the book because it focuses not only on systemic thinking, but on learning, and of course – personal mastery.
Personal mastery is a discipline of personal growth and learning. From an organizational standpoint, the more individuals quest for continuous learning, the more it fosters the spirit of the learning organization.
And as a side note: I have littered this post with links to my other posts that support each of the ideas, so you can jump around and get even more information. I hope you enjoy this one today!
The role of the manager has changed
How many of us have had or know of managers that focus solely on planning, organizing, and controlling? Managers who look at what is happening today, this week, or even this month and try to solve it right now? The necessity they feel for having control over many people’s lives. The power that comes with adding one more staff member to their ranks.
Well, these old styles of management are dying. I wrote about it in my post, The Germ Theory of Management. In order to keep pace in today’s economy, managers need to understand that their fundamental task has changed. Bill O’Brien, former president of Hanover Insurance explained that the real job of the manager is:
“Providing the enabling conditions for people to lead the most enriching lives they can.”
Now, that may seem a bit soft or altruistic, but take a moment to reflect on it. An organization that focuses on the total development of its people will achieve its goals of corporate excellence as O’Brien puts it.
By embracing the human driver of learning and full development of its people, an organization can move away from the traditional contract it has with its employees. It does take some strength by its leaders to do so, as it flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
But creating an organization that not only embraces personal mastery, but nurtures it can have massively big rewards.
What is personal mastery?
Senge explains that “learning in this context does not mean acquiring more information, but expanding the ability to produce results.”
And mastery is essentially a description of a special level of proficiency. As Senge lists, people with high levels of personal mastery share several basic characteristics:
1) Having a special sense of purpose that lies behind your visions and goals
It is important to have a vision – a specific point in the future you are aiming towards. And I advocate setting goals as much as possible. But what happens when you start to fade? Me personally, I have four blog posts after this of my 90 day, daily blogging challenge I gave myself. And I can tell you that it is tough to stick it out each and every day.
What does it mean to be able to have a special sense of purpose? I believe that it is all about your character. Can you do what you say you will do? Set that vision. Map out your goals to achieve that vision, and then schedule your activities.
Once it is all scheduled, what will keep you going to complete your tasks? What is your reason WHY?
2) Seeing your current reality as an ally, not an enemy
Failure is an opportunity for learning. But man, it sucks. When we said something would happen, or even promised it, what do we do when the reality is different? Can you be honest about what is going on TODAY?
If your sales numbers suck, do you look for a way to try and justify them or paint a bright picture, hoping no one will notice? Or do you go in and ask for help showing EXACTLY where you are at?
Can you admit when you made a mistake? Can you be vulnerable?
Can you embrace each day and absolutely enjoy the process? And also stop beating yourself up for not achieving goals. learn from the reality, adjust, and try again.
3) Learning how to perceive and work with forces of change, rather than resist them
Do you get stressed? Or do you welcome stress as a sign of new challenges? Can you look at your life as a series of ever-changing events, or are you trying to control the uncontrollable?
The more you open your eyes to change and look for opportunities, the easier change becomes. Can you go with the flow, or do you look to challenge new ideas or scenarios? Do you like to play the “Devil’s Advocate” because you aren’t quite sure how these new ideas will fit?
Life doesn’t stay the same, and nor should you.
4) Being deeply inquisitive, committed to continually see reality more and more accurately
As point number 2 discusses, we need to work to seek the TRUTH each day. More importantly than that, however, is that we continuously seek the truth. There are always sliding goalposts and we must adjust to them.
I see this often in organizations with managers. They went to school and gained their experience years ago, and now feel they are “done learning.” You are never done!
You must use each new image of reality as a way to reflect on the day’s truth and learn from the past. The more honest you are on a consistent basis, and the less posturing you do, the faster your growth will occur. And it will also be much more sustainable.
5) Feeling connected to others and life itself
Often I see people forget that there is a purpose that is bigger than us. It is one of interconnected relationships. It is about connecting and building more genuine ties with those around you.
One thing that saddens me is the thought of living a life where you just go through the motions. Relationships are lackluster, conversation is dull, and days become chores. YUCK!
Your goal on this planet is to get out and connect with people! And have fun! I wrote about that also in my post about the TGIF mentality. Why can’t it just be, TGI…Today? What will you do each day, to truly enjoy it and make an impact on others?
6) Sacrificing none of your uniquenessIn order to develop your personal mastery discipline, you don’t need to try and be somebody else, rather, work on being the BEST version of yourself you can. Who do you want to be?
That is the real reason behind personal mastery – to find your true self. And guess what? It will take work. But carve a life that is yours, and find a way to apply your uniqueness to your organization. or find a better fit if there isn’t one. Life is too short to try and mold yourself to someone else’s plans!
7) Feeling as if you are a part of a larger creative process, which you can influence but cannot unilaterally control
Man, there is a massive universe out there, and sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about it. We don’t have to make a HUGE dent on the universe, but we need to at least try and play our part.
We don’t need to get caught up in the enormity of the needs of the world around us, nor do we have to ignore the bigger picture.
I worked with my spiritual coach the other day on this exact topic and I was sharing with him an idea I had. I had been watching quite a few historical movies recently and I had this realization and sudden sadness that all of these people who had gone before me, over the last thousands of years, are no longer remembered. Sure a few of them have been, but if you are a realist, there is a giant chance that no one will remember you. I sat on that sad thought, and then it dawned on me. Just as much as no one will remember, at the same time, the pressures we put on ourselves are not as big as we think. Our problems in the moment are just the tiniest blip on the infinite universe. So why the heck should we stress out?
Let’s go and do the best we can each day! Try and influence that larger creative process, but do your own personal best and enjoy your life.
8) Being acutely aware of your ignorance, your incompetence, and your growth areas
Sometimes we just have to admit we know nothing. In fact, the smartest people I know freely tell me that all the time. You are not supposed to know everything. You should always be learning surrounding yourself with mentors, and tapping into a knowledge base far greater than your own.
I am a big fan of working with coaches and getting a second pair of eyes on your problems. I love working with clients and helping them see around corners. Besides, it is a ton of fun solving problems together. Making money together!
The only way to true knowledge is to just understand that there is an infinite amount of wisdom out there waiting for you to apply it.
Be honest in your shortcomings, be straight up about your knowledge gaps, and admit your lack of experience. It will serve you well. Besides, how is someone going to help you if you don’t admit you have a problem?
9) Possessing the capacity for delayed gratification
This is what is called “advanced maturity.” Can you make commitments to goals larger than yourself? Ones that may even affect succeeding generations? Can you forego your today needs for tomorrow?
Most organizations can’t see past this month, let alone next year, 3 years from now, or even a decade from now.
Can you see that far into the future? Would you commit to a long term plan?
Another fabulous quote by O’Brien is:
“Whatever the reasons, we do not pursue emotional development with the same intensity with which we pursue physical and intellectual development. This is all the more unfortunate because full emotional development offers the greatest degree of leverage in attaining our full potential.
Personal mastery takes discipline
People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual “learning mode.” If you have developed yourself in this way, you feel like you “never arrive.” As the Emerson quote goes:
“Life is a journey not a destination.”
If you read anything about personal development and success habits, you will understand that personal mastery must be approached as a discipline – as a series of practices and principles that must be APPLIED to be useful.
“To seek personal fulfillment only outside of work and to ignore the significant portion of our lives which we spend working, would be to limit our opportunities to be happy and complete human beings.” – Bill O’Brien
Are you willing to do what it takes to grow and challenge yourself? Are you willing to push past your comfort zone or will you lower your vision and take the easy path?
What does personal mastery mean for YOUR organization?
I hope this does not catch you as a shock, but could you imagine a team of dedicated, loyal employees, who were all focused on their own personal mastery? What would such a team be capable of? How much more capable would they be?
Re-read the 9 characteristics above and visualize the organization rather than the individual. What would a company look like that embodied those characteristics?
- A company that is full of intrinsic drivers, pushing your vision forward
- Being able to actually look at today’s data constructively, with no surprises (or better yet, no need to hide)
- Predicting changes and embracing change as a constant
- A thirst for the truth in order to enable real conversations, enabling smart decisions
- A feeling of interconnectedness and a higher sense of purpose to the community outside the organizational walls
- Not sacrificing your brand and being known for something
- Welcoming competition as a source of creative energy and acknowledging the part the organization plays in the larger markets
- Being open to new ideas, opportunities, and feedback because this is an organization that knows exactly where it can improve
- Setting long term goals with a shared vision for the future and doing the work today to get there without the stress of performance. Enjoying the process and having fun each and every day.
Now ask yourself what it would feel like to work in, manage within, or even own a company like that. How will you attract and retain the talent that it takes to grow such an organization?
Why do organizations struggle with change?
Perhaps it is not change itself, but how we view change?
Without getting too much into it on this post (stay tuned), one of the prevailing mental models is the “crisis theory of change.” Meaning that most of us believe that people and organizations only change, fundamentally, when there is a crisis.
When people are asked about their fears and desires, especially when it comes to change, they are both excited and scared at the same time. We like predictability, security, and control. While at the same time, we crave adventure, expansion, and growth.
We both fear and seek change at the same time.
“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.”
More importantly, change cannot happen in isolation. An organization that TRIES to develop its people without the right systemic thinking, shared vision, mental models, and team learning will fall flat.
You have to systematically develop your organization in a way that change can HAPPEN. Where people understand their roles and it is a TRUE part of the culture and brand. How many times have you seen organizations try to pacify its people with a new “flavor of the week” training program aimed at boosting morale? If the whole cause-effect nature of the business is not explored, organizations just drive their people crazy.
How can we have more FUN as an organization?
I will leave you with this last thought from Peter Senge:
“If people do not share a common vision, and do not share common mental models about the business reality within which they operate, empowering people will only increase organizational stress and the burden of management to maintain coherence and direction.”