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March 14, 2005
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

Mastery & Balance

Having just returned from a performance by a Chinese acrobatic troupe, the HR Doctor was struck by a common theme in the success of each member of this group of young athletes. It is a theme from which we could all learn, both in our work lives as well as in our personal lives no matter how many somersaults we are able to do.

No member of the troupe, other than the coach, was older than 19 years of age. It was clear from their amazing individual skills that each has been practicing and focusing on their art for many years. How else could one of them have balanced a dozen glasses full of liquid from her nose while climbing ladders? How could she have made it look so simple?

In fact, it was also clear that besides a lot of practice, the members of the troupe had two things going for them from which we could all benefit. The first is about mastery. Every one of us is capable of mastering a skill, an art or a technical issue surrounding a particular profession. Mastery brings a sense of fulfillment and a sense of joy.

It also takes a coach, trainer or teacher willing to spend time helping with and encouraging the development of mastery in another person. It was clear in the performance I saw that the smile on the face of the coach was far more than superficial. It was a smile of joy and fulfillment at seeing his efforts produce results in a gasping and cheering audience.

The mastery of an art form without sharing and teaching others is a sad waste Ñ as is not striving to master a skill in life. We never really fail when we are striving. The reason is that the effort is as important, perhaps more important, than the results. Striving inspires others to excel. It also inspires us as individuals to continue to seek improvement. None of us are so innately gifted that without any practice or rehearsal we could win an Olympic medal or step out onto a concert stage, pick up a violin and play a concerto. We need a combination of important elements.

We each need some degree of innate ability. In addition, we need a passion for pursuing and continually improving our abilities in the area of science, art or administration we have chosen.

Finally, it takes a mentor or coach to be the catalyst who takes those innate abilities and the wonder or the passion about what it must be like to excel in a certain area, and weaves them together with coaching and support to see what emerges.

The best practices of the best parents include heavy doses of the coaching and support role. The same is true of being a supervisor and a mentor to others at work.

However, in addition to that coaching role, the best supervisors, spouses, parents and leaders in general are also explorers who help themselves and others to discover what might be the area of mastery that would ignite passion in another person.

The exploration may mean allowing a new subordinate to accept responsibility for a large project or to try a new technique. It may mean selecting a colleague to go with a senior manager to a national conference or to some other professional development program.

For a parent, it may be having a continuing conversation with a child while walking through a museum, looking at the sky on a clear, dark night, or discussing the contents of a newspaper article.

When the spark of finding a compelling area of interest is ignited and excitement is generated in another person, the master or coach will recognize it. Like the acrobatic coach of the Chinese troupe, the mentor will smile in a knowing and fulfilled way at the success of others.

However, there is another clear component to success in achieving the amazing feats of skill of the master acrobat. All of the acrobats, at the moment of the most dangerous or difficult activity in their routine, had one or more colleagues helping to steady the ladder, handing the acrobat the right piece of equipment at the right time, and focusing intensely on the acrobat to detect the first sign of a loss of balance. In other words, the best performers are supported by others who act as a safety net, a stabilizing force in their efforts, and a source of help.

When all of these ingredients come together, a person can be a master as well as being well balanced in life. When any one of the ingredients is not present, a person’s skills may be strong, but he or she will be headed for a fall.

In our lives as administrators and public employees, we can develop the network, we can find the teacher, and we can practice some skill about which we are very excited. Every moment when we aren’t striving for mastery and balance, as well as helping others do likewise, is a wasted opportunity in an all too short career and life.

Go out and find a project, a hobby, a charity or a vocation to master and to share!

All the best,


Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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