Unique Leadership Axiom: Winning is not about your label, it is about MASTERY!
Master Sergeant is the eighth rank up from the entry level in the Army. For this and every military rank there is a plethora of mandatory skills and attributes. It is the mastery of those skills and attributes that makes a soldier a eligible for that rank. Mastery makes a winner. Any rank is yours only if you have mastery of the necessary skills and attributes. If you have ever achieved mastery in any field, you understand that much lies behind the achievement, behind the associated label.
We all live with labels, some are gratuitous. My mother named me after her brother, Benjamin Edgar Bess. She labeled me: Benjamin Edgar Bess Cummings. I relabeled myself as Benjamin E. Cummings, or Ben Cummings, no mastery required. There have been other labels, no mastery required:
- Vinegar (Ben Edgar run together!).
- Blimp (I grew faster than my class mates…both tall and wide).
- Big Ben (over six feet tall and 200 pounds).
- Brain, nerd, and snake (totally competitive student).
And labels earned with some mastery:
- Lieutenant and later Captain (USAF).
- Roustabout, Well Puller, and Roughneck (Mobil Oil & Standard Oil).
- Mister, Doctor, Professor, and even Boss (finally, working in a white collar).
- Doc and CrazyDocCummings <http://winning–thearmyway.com/?page_id=637> (Working with master military), and my favorites:
- Dad, Husband and Sweetheart!
For much of my life I failed to master my ego in the face of my labels. Lack of mastery often blossomed into rage. On one really ill-fated occasion I went after my tormentors with a broken piece of 2-by-4. Fortunately I was only 10 years old and not strong enough to do permanent damage.
As a kid I got even with tormentors by using my brain. I hammered the kids who abused my label by using academic performance as a cudgel. To this day mastering my mind is what I do.
I have for years lived amongst scientists and soldiers who had themselves achieved mastery. But, I had not understood what mastery was. I had to be taught the meaning of mastery.
My teacher was a world class ballet dancer.
- A woman who learned ballet as a young girl and who used exercise as a therapy for asthma.
- A woman who’s mastery took her to the level of principle dancer in an international ballet company.
- A woman who teaches ballet as an introduction to self mastery.
- A woman who for years has been my friend, true inspiration, and wife.
It was the story of her achievements that turned on the light for me. What a ballet dancer does to achieve mastery is seen in the hours per day, days per week and weeks per year during which a young girl repeats and repeats exercises that are hard for the rest of us to conceive. It is a battle with the laws of biomechanics, nutrition, and physics. It is a race against the clock in pursuit of excellence.
Now I know what brings mastery of specific skills and hence the ability to be a winner. Mastery has some common attributes, ones that I like to describe as “doing push-ups”. If pushups seem simple, look up How to Do a Push Up on WikiHow. The article is 1156 words long. Push-ups are a great example of what Gary Ryan Blair means when he says “everything counts” (http://www.everythingcounts.com/). It is only after repeatedly performing a task, you no longer focus on everything and simply execute with mastery.
Leadership Focus: As you rise in the mission that you follow, recognize that each new symbol of rank is really short hand for the mastery of many capabilities. Be do not neglected mastery as you climb the institutional ladder.
My Take: Master the pushups of your life. Don’t ever consider faking it.