The Pursuit of Mastery

Only one who devotes themselves to a cause with their whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person. 
Albert Einstein 

In my short life on this earth I have been blessed to know many great leaders. I have had the eternally significant opportunity to engage ordinary people who through their lived experiences have come to perform extraordinary tasks on a daily basis. These are individuals with faults and failures like all of us have, however they have been able to manage their shortcomings in a way that provides exponential growth for them and the environments that surround them.

I’ve begun to ask these great leaders about their patterns of behavior. My inquiries always include questions about their various disciplines. What are the things you do everyday that separates you from general population in your effectiveness?  What do you do when you’re not in the office, board meeting, in the public sphere: that makes you extraordinary? As you can imagine I received numerous answers to those questions. Everything from dietary restrictions, faith practices, work/life balance,and plain old-fashioned luck have been expressed by these leaders.

One common theme in those responses has been the arbitrary notion of “mastery.”  Great leaders seem to be afraid of ignorance. What keeps these leaders up at night; men and women of every age, color, sexual orientation, marital status, faith tradition, and positionality is the fear of allowing their ignorance to affect the lives of others. Many of them find this pursuit of mastery through the gathering of new information. Many of them read over 100 books a year. Some of them find magazines, blogs, and newspapers that have nothing to do with their industry to read on a daily basis. They believe that this sparks creativity and new ways of being and doing that will help them continue to lead in their chosen field.

In our American culture we focus even our children on this idea of “reading mastery.” We test children on how many words they can read per minute. We assess a person’s intelligence by their ability to gather information from written text. Those of you who know me know that I am a huge proponent of literacy, however I believe that in order to create the leaders of tomorrow and a better future for our country, we have to pursue mastery. Mastery is all about a passion for getting relevant information. Mastery is not just literacy and numeracy; it is in fact applied knowledge, better known as wisdom. While some people have reading lists, I have people lists.

To me it is just as important to have strategic people in your life for whom you read. Where you are gathering relevant information from their stories as lived out in the human experience, as opposed to their best story as lived out on the pages of a book. The wisdom, approaches, innovation, creativity, diversity, power, and life-giving empowerment that comes from a human beings story is much more powerful than the words the jump off of pages to us in our pursuit of mastery. So for all you great leaders out there who have a reading list I would not suggest you abandon that list, however I am arguing that we expand our reading list to include people.

No one has written a book that looks like their first draft. The finished product is always the highlight of that experience. As a great leader once told me, one of the reasons we struggle with self-esteem and feeling like we can’t achieve great things is because we are comparing our “behind the scenes experiences” with other people’s “highlight reels.”

Make no mistake, a written publication is a highlight reel. It is the best edited version of a person’s experience you will ever find. However a person’s life as it is lived out in the public sphere, read with humility and wonder can bring us to a point of mastery that will catapult our leadership potential.

Next time you want to read something, read a human story as it is lived out in front of you. This reading has been transformational in my leadership journey and I trust and pray it will be for yours also.

Peace, blessings, and good reading.

T2

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