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The importance of personal mastery in leadership

Peter Senge stated that “personal mastery goes beyond competence and skills … it means approaching one’s life as a creative work, living life from a creative as opposed to a reactive viewpoint.”

The pipeline leadership model of Drotter, Charan and Noel supports this thinking when it suggests that the path to executive or top leadership starts with “learning to lead self”.  The continuous growth trajectory of personal mastery is a discipline based on a number of key principles and practices. 

These may occur in the following order:
• establishing and living your deep-seated values,
• being driven by personal vision and purpose, and 
• holding creative tension between vision and current reality.  

Effective leadership is defined as influence.  Successful leaders have learnt first to influence themselves – their lifestyles, their behaviour, their interpersonal associations.  Setting a positive example becomes a greater reality for leaders who have first mastered themselves.  The virtue of influence and example is that leaders need never spend time on getting people to buy into their ideas – as the people have already bought into them.  

The path toward personal mastery is mostly a long, lonely and never-ending one.  For this reason many in leadership positions are found lacking when personal mastery assessments are applied.  Potential future leaders are surrounded by people who have reached the top rung of their careers without having mastered themselves.  This provides very poor illustrations of the leadership ideal and impacts negatively on teams and organisations.  Furthermore, it underscores the great need for sustaining a direct link between personal mastery and leadership development processes and programmes.

USB-ED has recognised the importance of this link. Through its many executive development programmes, the same approach is followed to ensure that this link is made.  For this reason USB-ED encourages prospective participants to follow through from the New Managers’ Development Programme (NMDP) to the Management Development Programme (MDP), the Senior Management Development Programme (SMDP) and eventually the Executive Development Programme (EDP).  This ensures that the development process is systemic and the participants move from personal leadership through to global leadership.

Prof Basil C Leonard – Head: Centre of Leadership Studies at USB

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