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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds PADDY UPTON: The focus on developing a leader’s self-awareness and personal mastery lies primarily on the invisible, immeasurable qualities that lie hidden within the individual. It’s these attitudes, beliefs, values, intentions, and general inner conditioning which become the primary internal drivers of actions and words, and thus of leadership effectiveness. Leaders and coaches can be seen as instruments of leadership, instrumental in the growth and development of others. Like any instrument, it needs fine-tuning. Personal mastery does this. It’s a journey in search of gaining deeper awareness of, and then constantly refining, our motivations, thoughts, emotions, values, and beliefs around the way we live our lives and conduct ourselves in the workplace.

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds Personal mastery is like the foundations of a building or roots of a tree. Often unseen, it provides the foundation upon which to project to great heights. Without this strong foundation, the heights of success can be undermined by shallow values or shallow character, sending once successful sport or business people tumbling back down to earth. The further one advances along the never-ending path of personal mastery, the more effective, respected, and valued we’re likely to become as a person and as a coach or leader.

Skip to 1 minute and 34 seconds It’s an endless journey to become the best person we can be, to discover our true potential, to express our skills, talents, and unique strengths, all this to deliver results in the world that are aligned with our personal values. Whether you’re actively engaged in this journey or not, life will generally move us along the path anyway. I recommend being intentional about self-mastery, about actively embracing the journey, which is certainly not always smooth or comfortable, but one that’s immensely rewarding. As leaders and coaches, we shortchange our followers if we don’t continually improve ourselves, especially when we coach and lead others to do the same. This table below suggests a continuum along which some of this journey traverses.

Skip to 2 minutes and 24 seconds It’s not about absolutes, about being one or the other. Rather, it’s a journey towards increasing degrees of mastery in more and more areas of our lives. Personal mastery, for example, is focusing on improving only on what we do to actively fine-tuning who we are being while we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s from the importance of looking good, impressing, and gaining confidence from others to our self-esteem being grounded by our own inner substance of strength and character. It’s from thinking we’re having the answers, and or needing to be seen to have all the answers, to knowing and openly accepting that we have much to learn.

Skip to 3 minutes and 8 seconds From our behaviour being dictated to by unconscious ego drivers to awareness of these, and choosing words and actions more intentionally and consciously– from covering up mistakes and vulnerabilities to embracing and owning these normal human conditions, while still remaining self confident. It’s from being affected by what other people think or say to knowing who we are and what we believe, while still listening to and taking value from others views– from focusing on our needs and wants to serving a cause greater than ourselves, knowing that our needs will ultimately be met with interest through this other orientation. It’s from taking on society, or people’s values to living authentically to our own values, and in so doing, adding value to society.

Skip to 3 minutes and 59 seconds Personal mastery is this and more. It’s a journey that leads all through life, bringing difficulty and reward, clarity and confusion, but certainly a deeper, fuller, and more rewarding experience from life. After all, life is but a journey.

Personal mastery: life’s journey

Once you’ve identified who you are as a leader and who you want to be, you can effectively make this change by shifting your focus.

Senge (1990) argued that:

people with a high level of personal mastery are able to consistently realise the results that matter most deeply to them — in effect, they approach their life as an artist would approach a work of art. They do that by becoming committed to their own lifelong learning (p. 7).

Gaining personal mastery is always a work in progress: it’s been likened to a ‘journey with no ultimate destination … in other words, a lifelong discipline’ (Flood, 1999, p. 20), or as Senge puts it, ‘people with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never “arrive”’ (p. 142).

Senge defines discipline as ‘a series of practices and principles that must be applied to be useful’ (p. 147) and claims that when personal mastery ‘becomes a discipline — an activity we integrate into our lives — [it] embodies two underlying movements. The first is continually clarifying what is important to us … the second is continually learning how to see current reality more clearly’ (Senge, 1990, p. 141).

Moving away from … and towards …

It can be thought of as a movement away from and a movement towards. For instance, we might move away from focusing on improving only what we do and towards actively fine-tuning who we’re being when we do what we do.

It’s important to realise that ‘personal mastery is not something you possess. It is a process’ (Senge, 1990, p. 142). It is something to practise, in the way a master artist continually practises working towards mastery.

The personal mastery continuum provided in the table is one way to practise self-awareness as a first step in the journey and helps us see current reality more clearly. Be warned though, this might be challenging work.

Your task

Download the personal mastery continuum and, from the perspective of your leadership or coaching role, mark where you are.

Reflect on what you’ve marked and discuss how this awareness might impact your leadership. Did anything surprise or challenge you? If not, why not and if so, why were you surprised or challenged?

Read through some of your peers’ responses and make a comment that underscores the link between two people’s contribution, making the links explicit in your comment.


Flood, R 1999 Rethinking the fifth discipline: Learning within the unknowable, Routledge, Abingdon.
Senge, P 1990 The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization, Doubleday, New York.

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