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I finished reading Dan Pink’s book Drive recently, it’s a book with a lot of takeaways and recommend it to anyone. Dan covers areas to help drive motivation: Automony, Mastery, and Purpose. If you would like a primer on the book this TED talk (18:36 mins) by Dan is very good. While reading the “Mastery” chapter I thought about leadership and what it takes to become a leader. Having posted before whether anyone can be a leader I believe mastery is key for leadership.

We spend many hours of our lives working, that could be actually in the office or thinking about work “out of hours”. As work is so central to our lives you would hope everyone would want to be the best they can be, aiming to learn and continuously improve. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, people are motivated in different ways and many see work as a chore, something that needs to be done to pay the bills. This is where I see a difference between managers and leaders.

Dan says that mastery is:

the desire to get better and better at something that matters

It’s not that managers believe work doesn’t matter, but I see leaders as people who constantly strive to better themselves and their teams. Leaders show that their teams matter to them personally. When your teams visibly see that you’re putting effort into improving their work life, it shows you care about your work and about them. This is one way your teams will see you as a leader instead as someone focused on results without caring how we get them.

Mastery hurts

Like anything, to become a master takes dedication, there’s a lot of studying and learning in the chosen field. It’s takes pain! But if you really care about something and have a goal in sight then any hurt is worth going through, it should even be expected. It doesn’t have to be a physical pain, even taking the time to read can interfere with our normal routine, could mean less time to do something more enjoyable! That is seen as painful by many! The more often something is done it becomes a habit, habits need to be created, even forced, if we are seeking mastery.

Only engagement can produce mastery

If we are not engaged with our work and teams improving is almost impossible. Engaged means we’re part of the team, working with the teams to achieve the goals. Being engaged allows you to observe the team from different perspectives, this then allows you to see areas which could be improved, maybe areas that you personally need to learn about to be more effective.

Mastery is impossible to realize fully

Whatever goals we set, we have to be realistic, we have to understand that perfection is elusive! We still should have targets that build on a mindset of continual improvement, this means we’re not aiming for an end goal that is impossible. Achievable tasks are vital for staying focused, anything too easy or too hard can affect the appetite for that target. Dan calls these Goldilocks tasks – “challenges that are not too hot and not too cold, neither overly difficult nor overly simple.”

Strong leadership is now essential for success in the IT world. In an often hectic environment, a leader should stand out by putting their teams before themselves and protecting them from the steady flow of distractions. For leaders that seek mastery, this will come naturally as their experience and knowledge increases. It’s a mindset that needs to be sustained! It ultimately comes down to the person, if they have the passion and drive to seek leadership through mastery.

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