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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 persons skills may be strong, but he or she will
be headed for a fall.
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 arent striving for mastery and balance, as
well as helping others do likewise, is a wasted opportunity in
an all too short career and life.
out and find a project, a hobby, a charity or a vocation to
master and to share!