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| January 10, 2017

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading, Mastery, is an essay by Josh Lawrence, Manager of Technical Services at Washington University in St. Louis. The essay first appeared as a program reflection last year.
When I returned from my first MOR workshop, my mind was buzzing with concepts and tools.  My excitement was quickly overshadowed by the usual, day-to-day work that distracted me from the new opportunity for growth.  Sean (MOR Vice President Sean McDonald) calls this, rather appropriately, gravity.  It feels like gravity was pulling me back to my old ways and my old habits. But, I keep hearing the echo, “what got you here, won’t get you there.”
During the first week, I did a good job of reflecting, prioritizing my calendar, spending I-time, and implementing the 4 I’s of building relationships.  After the second week, my energy had lightened, and my old habits, especially letting email drive my day, re-emerged. In talking to my peer coach and to MOR alums, I found that they had had similar experiences.   But they said, “Keep at it.  Don’t try to eat the entire elephant.  Break it off into small pieces.  Apply a little at a time.”
This reminded me of a concept called Mastery.  A mentor introduced mastery to me some time ago.  The idea is that in order to become a master at something, you must patiently and repeatedly practice the fundamental skills that compose the behavior you are trying to master.  You must intentionally practice them until they become part of you without having to concentrate.  Think of a young Michael Jordan practicing free throws,  “You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way.  Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.”  Jordan became better than everyone else by becoming better at practicing than everyone else.
The way to Mastery is to adopt the practice of consciously and repeatedly implementing the tools and methods taught in the MOR Leaders Program until they become habitual.  The mentor that introduced Mastery to me used a tennis player’s journey to excellence as an example.  The example was:  you can become a great tennis player by learning on your own and practicing by yourself.  But, the fastest path to Mastery is to learn the fundamentals through coaching.   And then practice, practice, practice.  The player that learns on his own may make it to mastery, but the player that listens to his coach, practices and becomes great at the fundamentals will get to mastery much quicker.
As we continue to practice, we will move from reliance on the abstract principles in MOR to using concrete experiences along your journey to Mastery.
Josh’s advice is right on.  Identify a tool; learn the right way to use it.  And, practice, practice, and practice some more.
Make your week a terrific one.  .  .  .  jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.