I am, and perhaps you are too when you look up the definition of what prejudice is.
Prejudice: Any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.
I have a prejudice against people who don’t want to learn. My mind has trouble understanding how someone can solve problems, permanently, if they don’t take the time to learn enough about what be causing that problem in the first place.
I’m prejudice when it comes to hard work. This serves me well sometimes and other times it doesn’t. Because I have a prejudice that really hard work leads to success I sometimes miss the easier way to accomplish things.
To achieve what Peter Senge deems as personal mastery, which is our ability to focus, manage our energy, and practice patience, or emotional discipline as I’ve called it, we also need to recognize our prejudices known as mental models. These concepts can be found in his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization.
As I noted in the article The Fifth Discipline of a Learning Organization, the 5 disciplines are personal mastery, mental models, building shared visions, team learning, and systems thinking. Here are some ways that you can develop the first two and practices that will help with continually improving them.
Why create some time and focused energy on personal mastery?
Here are some payoffs from effort you would put into this area. You have an improved likelihood of achieving greater:
- Meaning that you will develop clearer goals and be able to envision your future with more clarity.
- You will get better at unemotionally collecting and processing data about your current reality so that you can better understand where your starting point is and recognize the gap between that and what your desired outcome is.
- Seeking out underlying causes will allow you to gain greater power. When you are able to more easily spot root causes, rather than just effects, you will be more empowered.
- As you learn more about yourself, those around you, and the key factors that drive your organization, the stronger your subconscious or “intuition” becomes. As it gains strength you are able to more quickly spot those keys. There is great power when you continue to build your knowledge base and combine it with experience
Your individual strengths and behaviors along with what motivates you creates a unique perspective. When you are in an organization focused on learning and continual improvement, that perspective is valued and encouraged to continue to grow.
What are some things you can do to start developing personal mastery?
- Take or review a scientifically validated assessment in regard to your behaviors and motivators. These robust reports, like DISC/Motivators or Team Work Cycle will give you an objective look at what your strengths and areas of development are. Here’s a quick 2-minute video that will explain why organizations ask their employees to take these types of assessments. If you’ve taken one and haven’t fully reviewed it or looked at it in awhile, go through it with a fresh set of eyes to determine which areas of development would have the highest impact on the outcomes you would like to achieve this year.
- Practice things like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, or quiet walks in which you can observe your breathing and be fully present. When you enter a high-pressure zone at work you will need to quickly shift out of reactive mode and into a proactive one in order to recognize what may be the root cause of the problem you or your team is facing. By knowing when you are in your highest level thinking, and when you aren’t, and how to quickly elevate yourself is one of the most powerful leadership tools you can learn to use regularly.
- Turn off your notifications. Becoming more intentional and proactive about incoming stimuli can lead to better awareness of what state of mind you are in. Having things buzz, beep, and basically, interrupt your thinking and focus are distractions that will not serve you in problem-solving and decision making processes. Create specific times when you will check your messages. The ability to be present and focus on the matter at hand will lead to better relationships and your ability to observe and notice things you may have missed.
- Be curious. Practice curiosity with yourself and others. Be curious about why you have the same patterns of behaviors. Actively listen to others that are talking to you for more than just the words they are using. When you have interactions with others, how is what you are saying “landing”? Is the person engaged in what you are saying? How do you know? How do they respond to you? What do they do because of what you said? As you listen to others, how engaged and present are you? Are you listening for confirmation or information?
To be a good problem solver, it’s important to be aware of and identify your ingrained mentality and prejudiced perceptions. These biases lead to assumptions. Assumptions can be killers when it comes to gathering and processing information in order to solve a problem.
We’re making assumptions constantly. We have to in order to get anything done. You have to assume that the electricity is most likely going to come on in the morning, your car will start, or that your paycheck will be there when it’s supposed to be. Assumptions like thinking you know what it’s like to do someone else’s job when you have never done it before or what someone is going to say before they say it, or that because something is the way it is now is the way it will be forever, can lead to poor choices and decision making.
Mental models existing in the mind, are resistant to change and affect actions.
Here are some ways to alter your mental models in order to notice the root causes of problems more quickly:
- Create alternatives. Ask yourself things that like, “Is that true?” “Is that really true?” “What if the opposite of that were true?” “What would someone who is nothing like me believe about this situation right now?” “How would someone see this situation if they were in a different position than I am right now?”
- Select some new board members. Who do you go to for advice? How can you find a few new people to add to your professional “board of directors” that may bring a new perspective and have different views for you to consider? Have you spoken to someone who has no knowledge of your job or industry to get a completely different viewpoint, periodically?
- Create self-awareness. How often do you question your set of beliefs about people that you work with, your industry, your organization? What types of new experiences have you created in order to see things from a different perspective? How often do you force yourself out of your comfort zone?
- Get people to ask questions. Create time to use rounding in meetings to check in on other people’s point of view and perspectives on situations and problems that the organization or a team is facing. Work, as a leader, on asking higher level questions that are open-ended and are based in curiosity. Challenge your team to ask you questions that challenge you and your thinking. Support and encourage frankness and learn to respond by asking questions in order to achieve a deeper level of understanding.
Mastering yourself and breaking through set mental models doesn’t require approval from anyone else. You have complete control and authority over these disciplines. Taking 100% responsibility for your growth and building the skills necessary to be an effective problem solver is completely within your control and abilities. You are capable, smart, and determined. You know how I know this… because you chose to spend time reading and considering this article. A sure sign that you are someone that is committed to being a leader others will admire.