To Hit Your Numbers, Aim For Mastery


There is a principle of organizational culture borrowed from The Lakota Native American Tribe that maintains that human needs are met and harmony is achieved through a balance of the perceptions of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.

In order to reach peak performance, maximum efficiency, and happiness an individual should have balanced and high levels of each of these components. The same applies across the tribe as a whole. The principle is called the Circle of Courage and it looks like a traditional medicine wheel. George Blue Bird, a Lakota artist, originally painted the Circle of Courage of courage

In the “Belonging To A Warrior Culture” blog, we looked at belonging. Now, let’s look at the mastery and how it applies to corporate culture through the lens of tribes.

Mastery develops as a person masters her environment and becomes competent in important skills. The elders model new skills and learning, not through a competition prism but instead as a benefit to the individual and to the tribe. When a person feels competent, she is motivated and challenged to pursue further achievements. Failure is viewed as a natural part of the learning process. When a person feels incompetent, she is easily frustrated, retreats from further learning, needs extra guidance and may engage in bad behaviors. Some motivation to achieve mastery may come as a result of a member’s sense of belonging and her need to make a generous contribution to the tribe. Success is a possession of many, not the privilege of a few.

When the Circle is in balance, trust and respect exists between individuals and across the tribe as a whole. When leaders gather to make short and long-term decisions, they defer to the masters to provide insight and guidance in their respective areas of expertise. Decisions are arrived at quickly with buy-in from the rest of the tribe, as each member trusts and respects the individual and collective wisdom of the tribe.

For example, the archery expert and animal migration expert will collaborate on how and when to hunt bison with each injecting his own expertise into the decision. If the circle is in balance, a healthy decision will result. If instead the archery expert is deemed only proficient, a vacuum in mastery would exist and the circle would be out of balance. A vacuum will always be filled therefore the animal migration expert, or some other leader, may inject his pseudo expertise resulting in too much influence, a less than optimal decision, and a pronounced delay in making the decision.

The Work
In order to foster a sense of mastery,

– provide meaningful opportunities to learn and avoid busy work.

– create opportunities for people to share their expertise so that others may feel motivated to acquire new skills and share their new expertise such as team discussions around how members have applied their expertise or acquired new expertise rather than a one-way lecture on learning new information.

– routinely acknowledge that failure is part of the learning process.

– ensure that your experts are more than proficient and can communicate information effectively to all learners, regardless of style.

– maintain a respectful learning environment so that everyone feels comfortable/safe asking questions and sharing information.

– make learning fun.

– welcome constructive feedback, anonymous if possible, and act on pressing concerns.

– recognize that mastery can come in many forms.

– reinforce mastery as part of your brand ambassador profile.

– provide transparency to measure authentic mastery.

– provide accountability to ensure authentic mastery.

– provide swift and certain consequences for bad behavior.

– recognize individual achievement within a team framework.

– recognize team achievements within an “individual” contribution framework.

Finally, as Richard Branson famously says, “train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”