Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment
by George Leonard
Dutton/Plume, 176 pps.
Our theme this month is about how you can shift domains to change your life. George Leonard has written a powerful little book about one way to do this. He uses the
domain of the body, and the martial art of aikido in particular, as a vehicle for accessing the domain of learning.
Leonard holds a black belt in aikido and has been teaching
the art since 1976. He developed a keen interest in mastery as he watched thousands of students enter and leave the practice of martial arts. He uses the mat and
the practice of aikido as his laboratory for studying mastery. His premise is that what is revealed about mastery in aikido, can be applied to mastery of any
non-trivial skill such as management, leadership, parenting, etc.
He begins by explaining mastery as a learning process of
brief bursts of progress followed by a slight decline which leads to a plateau higher than where we were previously. Most of life, he says, is lived on a plateau. People
committed to mastery are willing to practice while on the plateau, trusting that in time the practice will lead to another brief spurt of growth and a higher plateau.
Practice is done for the joy of practice, and not just to attain a goal.
Not everyone approaches learning with the intention of
mastery. Leonard describes three other types of learners. Some are Dabblers. They love the initial growth spurts when it seems great progress is being made. But when
they hit the plateau, their interest wanes and they move on to something else. Then there are the Obsessives. When the plateau hits they push harder, work longer, do
whatever it takes to get results. Until they eventually hit a wall. And finally there are the Hackers. These are the people who once they hit a plateau, are comfortable just
staying there with no effort made to continue to practice or move forward on the learning path.
Mastery is a slow process, one that runs against our
western cultures' desire for quick results. The rest of Leonard's book outlines the five keys to mastery (instruction, practice, surrender, intentionality and the edge) and the tools of mastery.
This is a terrific book to read or reread for it's lessons on
leveraging one domain to learn about another, and to remind yourself of just what it takes to master any subject or skill. Are you willing to commit yourself to the
path of mastery in some domain of your life?
For a coaching article related to this month’s book and film review click here.