Mastery and Gift

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I was asked to speak at the MA in Leadership/MBA Graduate dinner for the School of Business Dinner last week. There are many such events near commencement as programs and schools celebrate the success of their students. It gave me a chance to think about what it means to have a “masters” degree. I like these invitations to offer a brief talk (in this case about 5 minutes)—they make you get the heart of a topic or offer one story. Here is my attempt for the School of Business graduates.

You are now a “Master”

Congratulations once again. You won’t get tired of hearing that between now and commencement next week. Sometimes it is good to step back and reflect on just what a particular accomplishment is. So let me do a little comparison…from Medieval History (of course)

A BA gets you started. Its name comes from the young men who formed the first students in European Universities…not yet married, not yet professionals, just beginning.

An MA comes from the language of guilds. The master is one who was in a literal way a master of a craft, or in this case the field of study. Teachers in the medieval university formed a guild. The masters are able to apply their expertise to particular circumstances. A new master has at least applied the knowledge of the field of study to one significant project, and can do so for others. To become a “master” in a particular craft in the guild system you had to create a “masterpiece”—your thesis or project is your “masterpiece.”

You are now masters of your field—this signifies that you have “mastery” in leadership or business. You are seasoned in your understanding. You are professionals. You can apply your knowledge in multiple situations. You are ready to practice your craft—you are leaders in your guild.

I hope you now recognize this in yourself, in the way you approach your work, whether it is in business or in some other kind of organizational leadership. I hope you can take a moment to reflect, see this in yourself, and indulge yourself with a little self-congratulation.

I have a confession to make. I have been practicing leadership and management for three decades, helping to lead and manage a very complex organization. I am mystified by much of leadership, even though I have taught it to undergraduates. I could use your conceptual tools.

Many practical leaders walk in my shoes—we intuit what must be done; our experience guides us. But we are not quite sure how to do it; so we muddle through by trial and error, developing our own little rules that are more or less helpful. I have learned to turn to people like you who have the mastery I don’t have. I tell you this because you now have the knowledge and understanding to put yourself forward to people like me and help us out of our mystification. We need you!

500 years ago Francis Bacon claimed, rightly, that “knowledge is power.” But it is more than this. It is opportunity to serve. Your mastery of your field of study is a gift that you can offer to others. Of course you will be tested. No leadership situation, no management problem is ever exactly like another. There are too many variables—you know this. And knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into success. But you can offer to come along side, stand with, and offer some guidance to those who are starting or running a business, leading a non-profit or community organization, or guiding and shepherding churches (church leaders often ask me where they can find assistance).

You can offer yourself and your knowledge to those facing challenging situations. You have the tools to start a new, with a distinct mission, and see it thrive. You have something valuable with which to succeed and to serve.

Let me offer you a final thought. St. Paul says it this way (Col 1:9-10) “For this reason…we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work, and as you grow in your knowledge of God.

A Benediction: May your knowledge and expertise abound in all good works, in service to God, his people, and in knowledge of God. May you know yourself prepared for this work. May you find that place of unique service where your knowledge and gifts are used for the good of many.

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