Personal Mastery is the first discipline of five disciplines in learning organizations. For you as manager it is a good preparation on your way to organizational learning! So it is important that you listen to the words of Peter Senge and „The Fifth Discipline“, that you think about what does that mean for your organization? And please don’t forget it is the first discipline of the five disciplines however also the other disciplines are important on your way to the learning organization. So finaly systems thinking is the core on your way to the learning organization.

Peter Senge and „The Fifth Discipline“

Peter Senge wrote in his bestselling book „The Fifth Discipline“:

„What fundamentally will distinguish learning organizations from traditional authoritarian ‘controlling organizations’ will be the mastery of certain basic disciplines.“

The five disciplines are:

  • Personal Mastery
  • Mental Models
  • Building Shared Vision
  • Team Learning
  • Systems Thinking

So Personal Mastery is one of five disciplines in learning organizations. It fosters the personal motivation to learn continually how our actions affect the world. For me it is no accident that Personal Mastery is the first discipline listed.

Peter Senge wrote: „It is vital that the five disciplines develop as an ensemble.“ It is clear that it would be much easier to apply the five disciplines separately. But it makes sense to take on the challenge to develop the five disciplines as an ensemble. This is why systems thinking is the fifth discipline! But don’t forget that systems thinking also need the other disciplines to realize its potential in the learning organization.

The spirit of the learning organization

Peter Senge uses ‘personal mastery’ as a term for the discipline of personal growth and learning. People with high levels of personal mastery are continually expanding their ability to create the results they truly seek. Their quest for continual learning is the source of the spirit of the learning organization.

It sounds like a broken record however I am glad to say it once again:

Organizations can only learn through the members of the organization!

The discipline of personal mastery

  • Personal vision
    For personal mastery you need a personal vision. Clarifying vision is one of the easier aspects of personal mastery.
  • Holding creative tension
    There is always a gap between vision and reality. If you imagine a rubber band stretched between your personal vision and the current reality you always should try to hold creative tension.
  • ‘Structural conflict’: The power of your powerlessness
    You always need to believe. Especially to believe that you can follow your personal vision.
  • Commitment to the truth
    That means continually broadening the awareness to see more of the playfield.
  • Using the subconscious, or, you don’t really need to figure it all out
    In practice we can cope with complex systems by using our subconscious. You are at a high level of personal mastery if you can trust your good feeling.

Personal mastery in organizations

Personal mastery is one of the first things that are important for individuals in learning organizations. However in organizational practice no one can be forced to develop his/her personal mastery. Thus, you need to believe in the sense of personal mastery. Please don’t forget the close connection between believe and trust.

What can managers do to foster personal mastery?

  • First, you can foster a climate (organizational culture) where personal mastery is practiced in daily life. Try to create an organization where it is safe for people to create visions, where inquiry and commitment to the truth are the norm and where challenging the status quo is expected.
  • Second and maybe most important is management as model for all members of the organization.

Creative Tension

You can read on Society for Organizational Learning (SOL) Website about Personal Mastery:

„The central practice of personal mastery involves learning to keep both a personal vision and a clear picture of current reality before us. Doing this will generate a force within ourselves called ‚creative tension.‘ Tension, by its nature, seeks resolution, and the most natural resolution of this tension is for our reality to move closer to what we want. It’s as if we have set up a rubber band between the two poles of our vision and current reality.“

Personal Mastery Coaching

We are offering a Personal Mastery Coaching for managers in (learning) organizations – developed by Christian Pirker and our Organizational Learning Team. Our Organizational Learning Team is about 25 years active in the field of organizational learning. Please feel free to contact us for more detailed information!