Welcome to Leadership from the Balcony.
My name is Shawn Griesemer with my co-host Justin Dorroh. And each week we bring you a new leadership concept to inspire your growth and effectiveness as a leader in every area of your life.
His whole thesis is these learning organizations have such a significant competitive advantage because they're not capped to this is how we've always done things.
You can't have a learning organization if you don't have learners. There have to be personal learners to create a learning organization.
In order to adapt and thrive in complex and rapidly changing environments, a commitment to continuous learning and personal growth is non-negotiable. This process, known as personal mastery, helps address the limitations of traditional thinking and encourages individuals to develop a broader perspective, increasing their ability to contribute to collective goals and further unlock their own potential.
Thanks for joining us on the balcony. We hope you enjoy peering over the railing to gain an expanded leadership perspective.
I think back to a book we've read, The Fifth Discipline, and how we even found that book. I think it came from the bibliography of Mastering Leadership. Mastering Leadership is one of the first books we read that kind of took us on this trail of development, growth, etc. And it really is a book of theory around leadership that's associated with a 360 tool. They do a lot of definition of leadership capabilities and competencies and then they give stories and kind of flesh out what does this actually look like in practice. But I remember when we were reading that, I was like, what books are they reading? And so, I flipped to the back and I found this book called The Fifth Discipline. And for whatever reason it stood out to me, I googled it, found it, ordered it, and it was like a 1988 textbook that showed up in my house. And what's interesting is... From MIT. Yeah, Brown Pages, They Used to Be White, you know, the whole thing. And what's interesting is it's a book that was written in the 80s, I believe. Early 90s, somewhere around there. The whole book is about something called systems thinking. The author, Peter Senge, suggests that this is the fifth discipline to what he calls a learning organization. And in that book, he outlines each of those disciplines. And systems thinking is the fifth and the focus of that book. But he does touch on, with a bit of detail, each of the other four disciplines that kind of create that. But the whole idea is, if you have people in your organization that are committed to learning, growth, and development, and then there's healthy interpersonal dynamics, so teams can learn together, and there's tools and processes to surface where you might have issues, or archaic perspectives, or a way to share a big picture vision, then that collective group of people actually has a greater capacity to learn, grow, and develop than if everyone's in silos, everyone's protecting, or some are trying to learn and some aren't. And it just creates this organizational confusion.
His whole, it seemed to me, thesis is, these learning organizations can be some of the most dynamic and have such a significant competitive advantage because they're not capped to, this is how we've always done things. He unpacks in that book these five disciplines, and one of them is called Personal Mastery and how would you articulate some of your thoughts around both what he says and what it's meant to you?
Like Justin said, we're talking about personal mastery today. And one of the things I love about the fifth discipline is even back in the early 90s, late 80s, in this book, Peter Senge starts talking about the importance of people and the individuals in the organization, the importance of those individuals at a time when leadership was much more hierarchical. You had more, who's the visionary leader, and they're leading from a top-down approach. Yet, the writings in this book really elevate the importance of, he talks about shared vision in that book. It's about everybody having personal vision to go along with the shared vision of the organization and having everybody engaged. He talks about you can't have a learning organization if you don't have learners. There have to be personal learners to create a learning organization. I just wanted to give the stamp of approval from my standpoint that this book was so forward-thinking, even back then, of the importance of the individual in organizations. It still stands as true today as it was a forerunner back then.
But personal mastery, again, because the book is about being a learning organization, the personal mastery component is the individual, the personal growth and learning of an individual. It's not a complex concept, which is what's fascinating about it. It's just, it's not something that's largely talked about. The fundamental element behind personal mastery is it really goes beyond individual competency and skill, but competency and skill is important in personal mastery. But it's really somebody's ability to live in a creative space, to live towards something, to have their life not be just about reacting to things that happen, but personal mastery is about being able to live toward a vision, not just to be reacting to the things in the now. Right.
To your point about competency, it's like if I have a vision that feels very purposeful or meaningful and I lack a competency, well then, I'm going to find a way to get upskilled so that I can actually deliver whatever it might be because that vision is so strong and potent to what I perceive as meaning making in my life. Yes. So, looking at the elements of personal mastery, there's really two fundamental elements that make it up and one is to continually be able to clarify what's important to you. Right. If you don't know what's important to you, where you want to go, what do you want to live for, purpose, mission, whatever you want to call it, if that's not clear to begin with, all you're left with is reacting to things that come. So, the first fundamental element is vision or clarity on what is most important to you. And the second one is really easy. It's do you have the ability to live with clarity on what is your current reality? Right. If you have that, if you have a clear understanding of your current reality and you know where you want to go, then you can do what you said just a minute ago. You have the ability to look at how do we get there. If I don't have a competency, what competency do I need to grow in? Right, exactly. A
It's so funny, all of these concepts we talk about, they really do all intersect with each other. Because the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about this is, so if you want to go on this journey of personal mastery, one of the things you're going to have to get comfortable with is your relationship with feedback. Because you are going to get a ton of feedback both in personal reflection and honest evaluation of where you are. But also, if you have a group that you're going with, you're going to probably hear from other people along the way. Right. If you have a group of customers that you're serving, you might get some feedback from those folks as well.
Feedback is really integrated into this personal relationship. It's a personal mastery process. Yes. And when you think of personal vision, what does that mean to you? You know, in so many ways, I think it's not a static statement. It is a statement that gets refined over time. You know, to get something really clear, though it looks it might be five to ten words, it is so packed with meaning that have come from years of exposure of learning, growth, experiences. And so, in a lot of ways, people get a little nervous at times of writing out a big picture vision because they don't want to feel locked into something. And I'm like, it's your vision today. But as you start to do, you will learn to better articulate what that vision is and make the adjustments necessary to continue to move towards it. And by that, I don't mean reducing the size of the vision or reducing the scope of what you feel passionate about. But learning to better articulate what you mean and don't mean are such a key part to truly moving towards that sense of personal mastery. Yes. And the first component you have to really understand and clarify is what is it that's important to you? What's that future vision, desire that you want to see become a reality is the first piece of importance. I often find that even looking back in your life helps to bring understanding to that personal vision. What are the things that times in your life when you really felt you were thriving? Something that people come to you over and over for and it just seems you have a very unique ability to tap into in ways other people don't. And when you can start to recognize those places of significance, of importance, of things that you're just like, man, I love it when I get to do this. And you can start to build that tapestry even from a look-back perspective really helps you be able to look out in front of you and say, I want to live towards seeing more of that taking place. And that helps to really build some of that clarity toward that future reality.
Like we said a second ago, two primary elements, the first one being where are you wanting to go? They have this concept in the fifth discipline that talks about creative tension. Tell us what's creative tension and what creates the tension. Creative tension is where you have some kind of goal that's in front of you that is pulling you towards it because of its scope, its size, its meaning, its purpose. And that tension creates energy. And that energy engages you in the work in the relationship, the team, whatever context you find yourself in, there is a deep sense of meaning, fulfillment, and purpose because that tension is pulling you towards something. It's not breaking you down. It's pulling you up. Yes. It's that space between. It's kind of like the gap analysis people talk about. Where am I today? Where do we want something to be in the future? And identifying the gap between. And if the future is far enough out, that's that tension that we feel. And it's a very positive energy.
The challenge about creative tension is it doesn't have an actual feeling associated with it. Sometimes people say when I'm in a creative tension, I feel anxiety, I feel disappointment because I'm not moving toward it, or a number of other emotional tensions. But they don't feel a creative tension because it's oftentimes hard to know, am I feeling creative tension right now? Which is the challenge of knowing I'm in the middle of it. That's why you constantly have to, in personal mastery, you have to come back to personal vision over and over and over again.
For me personally, I'll never forget going through a process just, I love all these books that are out there these days of discover your why, or find your why, and start with why, and find your way. And when you're talking about how to really land into purpose that matters to you, I'll never forget when I went through the journey personally of trying to establish what that was, and realizing how much I loved journeying with people to discover their own gifting and skill so that they could live on purpose, the intrinsic purpose they feel inside. And I don't review that daily, but I review that often and I feel that inspiration as a coach when I sit down and I coach people, I feel alive. I feel a sense of, man, I'm engaging in something that really matters to me. And it is that future reality of, how do I do this more? How do I continue to align with that? Go from my current reality of doing it some to doing it more and feeling that tension pulling me toward it. Yeah, I can think of a similar story of how to define your personal set of values and even vision for your life. And for a period of time, I would look at that document every week as I planned out the week ahead. Because it had you walk down from that sense of vision to goals and what are the activities that are driving all of that. And it was a great season to just practice alignment and to build internally that ability to understand, is what I'm doing connected to what I'm designed for? And if it's not, why do I keep doing it thinking I'm going to get some kind of meaningful outcome? I need to go and redesign the things that I've set goals around and set purpose for.
That's probably helpful to also mention here, there are a number of things that happen once you set that creative tension. Oh, for sure. And one of them, when that creative tension is, the more tension exists over time, if you're not moving toward it, that tension can become overwhelming. And sometimes people will erode the vision. One way to reduce that tension is to allow that vision to get smaller and smaller and smaller until the tension's gone. The other way, of course, is to actually fulfill it and you move toward it and then you need to set it out further again. There are people who, in the course of trying to go for that future reality, they all of a sudden, not feeling like they're making movement forward, they start to pick new goals that sound very much like that future reality but they're actually toward the negative of it. Can you think of any? I mean, there's so many different examples. It's the concept of being more against something than for something. Right, exactly. If you have a particular idea or concept or whatever, then actually go build the thing that you have vision and motivation towards.
I think people do this in government, like politics. Politics, relationships, fill in the blank. There are probably scores of books out there that are about these types of topics, being against something versus for something. And I think it can be energizing to be able to say what you don't like, and it can feel a lot more exposing and vulnerable to really be able to say, here's what I'm for and here's what I'm building. Because sometimes there isn't an example to go look at. That's why you're building it. Yes, for sure. Think of the number of times we've heard in political campaigns where people say, don't tell me what you're against, I want to hear what you're for. Well, that's the exact not going after a future desired reality the way to, if that's too hard, we do in the negative. And the last thing that people do we have that vision erode. We have that manipulating the vision you have toward a negative. And the last one is this willpower that if I can just get up enough energy to make it happen and then we push as hard as we can, there's another force that acts against us when it comes to personal mastery. Talk a little bit about what they call structural conflict. You have your current reality, you have a future vision reality, but there's always another reality that's acting against us. Tell us a little bit about that. Simultaneously, as this creative tension is getting energized, there's also the sense of what isn't working or certain belief systems or patterns that are actually working against you, filling that vision and are kind of pulling you in the opposite direction. And just like I mentioned earlier, our relationship with feedback and potentially starting to get some feedback points as you start to move towards that vision that feel discouraging or feel demotivating or feel like you begin to question, what am I doing? Why am I doing this? Am I out of my mind to think that this is possible? And all those stories we tell ourselves can pull us in the opposite direction of moving towards that sense of purpose and meaning. Yes, and we call those mental models. They are belief systems. They are narratives.
When Senge laid out the two primary elements that support Personal Mastery, one was personal vision and the other one was dealing with truth in our current realities, the problem is, when we look at current reality, we look at it through so many lenses. And those lenses are generally created and scripted by our mental models or our belief systems. So, we don't see current reality in its real truth. We see it through these lenses so that it's not just a narrative. And that structural conflict that we were just talking about is the, I have a future vision, I have a current reality, but I have this opposing force that won't enable me to move forward because I'm not even seeing reality clearly because of the mental models.
We'll actually talk about mental models in a future podcast. But just to say that personal mastery is all about the ability to move forward, to learn and to see a vision become a reality and willingness to grow. The term personal mastery can sound like you know everything there is to know about whatever your outcome is, which is really not what this is saying. Or to master over somebody. Exactly. What it's really getting at is this lifelong commitment to learning, growth and development. Yes, that's good. As I've heard someone else say before, personal mastery is a willingness to never arrive and continually grow and develop into our later years as a person. That's really good. Yes, and I love as a leader what I can do for my people is to continue to create an environment that always allows them to continue to learn and to fail. That's right.
One of the greatest classrooms for anyone is to support in failure and not criticize and disqualify in failure. In a previous role I had that was kind of a training and development role for people newer to the organization one of the things we talked about all the time was if you can't fail, you can't learn. That's so good. Because the ability to do it wrong means you can learn how to do it right. That's right. If I have to get it right to even attempt, I'm going to reduce my options. I sure don't. But yet human flourishing happens when there's growth. And growth, like a necessary component of growth, is failure. You know, it's the class, is it the Thomas Edison quote when he invented the light bulb, I figured out how to not do it a thousand times or whatever the number is. I only had to get it right once. Exactly. But every attempt was one more step in getting it right. I had somebody I was talking to whose dad literally was a rocket scientist and his comment to me one time, he said, you know, if you had asked my dad if he was a success, if it took him 300 attempts to get it right, if you had asked him at attempt number 150, he might have said, well, someone could conclude he's a failure. But you see that without the context because at attempt number 300, he did the moonshot. Right. And it's like we don't always see our lives that way. We see our conclusion in midstream, not realizing like, hey, look at the progress you've made. Learn how to celebrate that. Right. Because that will give fresh motivation to continue this personal mastery journey. I think that was Elon Musk's story, too. When he started SpaceX, he had enough money from whatever he sold to launch three rockets. That's right. He had three chances to make it right and all three blew up. He had everything he had left to make a fourth. Correct. And they actually launched it. That's right. He only had to get it right once, but he didn't even do it within his first construct of what had to succeed. Right. It took until the fourth time. That's right.
The challenge that we want to, or the experiment that we want to lay out for leaders over the next week or two, is to evaluate in your primary areas of engagement in your life, what is your personal vision for why you're engaging in those activities? If you don't, now's a great time to explore. It could be work specifically. It could be consistent places, substantive places where you're volunteering, your philanthropic work. It could be in your family and in your parenting or some other relationships where you ask yourself the question, what is the future desire that I have for my work, my engagement in my work, my volunteering opportunities, and where am I today? And start to see if you can't create that creative tension of a future reality that means more to you and is more fulfilling than today's reality and allow that to create a tension to pull you forward into learning to grow into something better in the future than where you find yourself today. We appreciate your time. We hope you find your passion.
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