A number of years ago, I was walking in New York when I saw a bricklayer building a wall. He was not a young man, probably in his fifties. Brick by brick by brick he put his wall together with such elegance, rhythm and mastery that it seemed almost effortless. I stood there, transfixed, for maybe half an hour, and simply watched him work. His economy of motion was astonishing; there was no waste. It was almost a dance. The beauty of it took my breath away.
I thought about that bricklayer recently when towards the end of leading a training someone came up to me and said, “You’re a master at this.” I found myself wondering, “What does that mean?” until I realized, I have been training, and facilitating since 1984 – for 30 years!
My path as a trainer and facilitator, like the road most leaders take, had its ups and downs. I went from a place of, “This looks kind of fun to do,” to, “Maybe I can really do this,” to, “I’m faking this. I’m not suited for this at all,” to, “I’m pretty good at this,” to, “I suck at this,” to, “Why in the world am I doing this?” After many years of practice, I developed a sense of rhythm and economy of motion in my work, and realized that this is what I’m here to do.
In this time of two-minute news stories, 140 character tweets, and instant messages, I wonder how many of us are taking the time to become masterful at something? If we’re going to become masterful leaders, we have to practice, and practice takes time, repetition, making mistakes, and going through periods of, “Why am I doing this?”
A while back, someone said to me that you can only become a master when others recognize it in you. [I have to admit some discomfort with the word “master,” given what it means for women and African-descended people, but I don’t know a better word]. It’s not something we get to decide we are. And yet, I think it’s important for leaders to own when we have mastered something, and move from that place of assurance, rhythm and clarity, so that we can then pass it along to the folks who will come after us.
A few questions for you:
- What are you mastering?
- What will it take your lifetime to learn as a leader?
- What are you willing to give your heart, your days, your life and your energy to?
- How might the world change if you took the time to build your leadership brick by brick by brick?
From my heart to yours.