The Three Keys to Self-Mastery
Self-Mastery and conscious use of self have a broad purview. We use ourselves with everything we do, think, feel, and believe. Most of the time our automatic behaviors and thoughts serve us well. No mastery is needed. However, when we want to shift the dysfunctions around us including our own, being on automatic can be counterproductive.
As leaders, we may want to increase productivity, build stronger teams, turn conflict into creativity, or bring harmony to our families. To create those changes we need to make choices from conscious deliberation. The range of possibilities, however, can be vast and daunting. We can, however, narrow it down to three areas—intention, connection, and ego management. They operate interdependently. Success or a misstep with one can trigger success or a misstep with the other two.
To explore them, we will use the case of Jason Campbell, the new vice president of operations of a heavy equipment manufacturer. Jason was tasked with turning a conservative and risk-averse culture into one more responsive to customer and employee needs.
All of our actions and inactions have an impact whether we notice or intend them. Life works best when the impact of what we do is what we intended. And, there are times when our impacts are unintended and undesirable.
During a town hall meeting with his employees, Jason was challenged about his lack of experience in their industry. On automatic, he felt attacked and tried to defend himself. He cited at length his experience in Silicon Valley, his books, and his academic credentials. They were not impressed. His impact was concern—not gently expressed—about his fitness to be their leader. Had he been conscious he might have stuck to his initial, more thoughtful intention of being a leader of compassion who listened well. His automatic intention to defend himself derailed his initial intention.
Having our desired impact also calls for positive influence with those we want to follow us. The ease of that influence depends on the quality of our connections with them. The stronger the connection between people the more likely their influence on each other will be positive. Any person new to an organization must build that connectedness. Most groups of people provide a honeymoon period of trust to newcomers. Using this period of grace to build solid connections is important.
Jason’s town hall meeting fell flat from misdirected intention. It also shortened his honeymoon period and decreased his connectedness with his people. Things went downhill from there. Still hurting from the failed town hall, his behavior with his middle managers consisted of posturing and stories about past successes. Within a month his most senior engineer resigned.
Jason was able to save himself. After several coaching sessions, he began to understand that his ego had been guiding his intentions and hampering his ability to connect with his people. He laid out a plan to recoup his missteps. Jason took his management team on a two-day retreat where he owned his fumbles. This set the stage for a remarkably open and honest dialogue about what they would like to see in their leader. From there they developed plans to reinvent the entire operations area. With connections with his management team revived, the journey to rebuild trust with his other employees got underway.
As human beings we all have egos—our sense of self-esteem and our sense of identity. A healthy ego provides the joys of pride and positive esteem. However, under stress even the healthiest ego can overwhelm us with its intention to protect or enhance itself. Such automatic intentions can derail more thoughtful intentions. When not consciously managed, we can impede and damage the connections important to us. We must manage our egos rather be managed by them.
There we have it: intention, connection, and ego management—three areas essential to self-mastery. Being intentional and deliberate about all three are crucial in those moments when having a positive impact is important. They are doubly important for those who would lead others.
Stay tuned for the final of our four articles on self-mastery and conscious use of self. We will explore the mechanism of our minds that makes mastery of our intentions, connections, and ego management not the easiest of tasks. We will offer ways to put yourself in charge of your mind rather than it being in charge of you—which can make your life and leadership the productive joy you wish it to be.
The Center for Human Systems offers several ways we can help you become the leader or change practitioner you wish to be:
- Coaching and consulting in-person or online at chumans.com/coaching-and-consulting/
- Training programs in-person and online at chumans.com/training-development/
- In-depth articles at chumans.com/articles