"Mastery” might suggest gaining dominance over people or things. But mastery can also mean a special level of proficiency. A master draftsman doesn’t dominate pottery or weaving. People with a high level of personal mastery are able to consistently realize the results that matter most deeply to them – in effect, they approach their life as an artist would approach a work of art. They do that by becoming committed to their own lifelong learning.
Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively. As such, it is an essential cornerstone of the learning organization – the learning organization’s spiritual foundation. An organization’s commitment to and capacity for learning can be no greater than that of its members. The roots of this discipline lie in both Eastern and Western spiritual traditions, and in secular traditions as well.
But surprisingly few organizations encourage the growth of their people in this manner. This results in vast untapped resources: "People enter business as bright, well-educated, high-energy people, full of energy and desire to make a difference,” says Hanover’s O’Brien. "By the time they are 30, a few are on the fast track and the rest ‘put in their time’ to do what matters to them on the weekend. They lose the commitment, the sense of mission, and the excitement with which they started their careers. We get damn little of their energy and almost none of their spirit.”
And surprisingly few adults work to rigorously develop their own personal mastery. When you ask most adults what they want from their lives, they often talk first about what they’s like to get rid of: "I’d like my mother-in-law to move out,” they say, or "I’d like my back problems to clear up.”
The discipline of personal mastery starts with clarifying the things that really matter to us, of living our lives in the service of our highest aspiration. Here, I am most interested in the connections between personal learning and organizational learning, in the reciprocal comments between individual and organization, and in the special spirit of an enterprise made up of learners.
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