Sunday, April 13, 2008

Where Leadership and Golf Mastery Meet

Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything

---Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.

---Zen Proverb

All the significant battles are waged within the self.

---Zen Proverb

Life seeks order in a disorderly way.

---Margaret Wheatley, A Simpler Way

Every spring brings our collective sigh of relief that winter has past and fresh growth is upon us. With new surges of energy, we make new plans for the garden, our work and personal lives before the next transition.

As the seasons go, so do sports. In the spring, it’s the Masters Golf Tournament where we bear witness to incredible talent, the result of many years of hard work. We marvel at the ability of the golfers atop the leader board to scramble out of messes. We feel for them when things don’t work out.

The leader board and great leadership intersect in the “how” of getting there. When all is said and done, there are two key interdependent practices necessary for mastering anything, including golf:

Deliberate practice (Skill Power---improving technical skills/honing routines for “competition”)

Zen practice (Presence Power----taming/letting go of the ego, being in the present, improving and using mental agility for “competition”)

Both require disciplined goal-setting, rehearsing for thousands of hours to challenging scenarios, tracking results, reflecting on the results (learning what is working/not working) and based on the feedback to self and from trusted coaches, re-setting goals repeating the cycle of practice, etc.

What is “deliberate practice”?
Improving the skills you already have and extending the reach and range of your skills.

It encompasses focusing on tasks that are beyond your current level of competence and comfort. Not practicing in a vacuum but practicing to the challenging scenarios that confront and bedevil you in the work situation, or, in the case of golf, in tournament play.

By working at what you can’t do, you turn into the expert you want to become.

What is “Zen practice”?
Becoming free of the ego, by observing rather than reacting. Making peace with the present moment.

This is the area of “self-knowing” that repeatedly shows up in books and articles on leadership as well as golf. This is the ultimate source of effectiveness. But, the journey requires patience.

The ego is a “conditioned mind-pattern” or a thought. In its dysfunctional state, it thrives on reactivity---anger, frustration, impatience, etc., distracting us and interfering with our ability to enjoy and benefit strategically from the moment.

Only “presence” can free us of our egos. Ego implies unawareness. But the moment we become aware of the ego in us, it becomes weakened.

To become free of the ego is not really a big job but a very small one.
All you need to do is become aware of your thoughts and emotions---as they happen.

This is not really a ‘doing’ but an alert ‘seeing’….. When that shift happens, which is the shift from thinking to awareness, intelligence far greater than the ego’s cleverness begins to operate in your life. Emotions and even thoughts become depersonalized through awareness. Your “story” becomes of secondary importance. It no longer forms the basis of your identity (or controls your actions).

---Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth.

Just as we typically set goals and track them to improve our technical capabilities within our field of expertise, leadership progress also needs equal treatment, especially on the thoughts and emotions side. The “presence power” technique suggests an approach that is counter-intuitive yet well-known by those who meditate: observe but do nothing.

By doing less (not doing anything with our thoughts or emotions that are not helpful), we open up the space to become more. We become more of who we really are, that is, our incredible talent can shine through more because we are not caught up in our ego (self-conscious thoughts).

In our fast-paced world, the journey of self-awareness doesn’t fit. There is no way self-knowing can be hurried. It responds to what we make of “teachable moments” as they present themselves through the course of our work lives. Each new insight must be turned into a concrete application that, in turn, has to be fine-tuned through deliberate practice.

As in golf, leadership can be learned: “skill power” and “presence power”. For those who are passionate about the “game”, mastery is possible. It just takes time. Along the way, there is fun to be had!

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