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Building Better Business Book Club 

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Intentional Mastery by William Buist

This month’s book review is written by Paul Laughlin and first appeared on Customer Insight Leader.

Do you know the journey beyond expertise to Intentional Mastery?

Let me start with a disclaimer. I count William as a friend and have benefitted greatly from working for and with him over the years. That said, we are both grown up enough for this to be an honest review. In it, I aim to help my readers judge if this book will help them.

Let’s start with the cover. Suffice to say the old adage is true, “don’t judge a book by its cover”. I don’t like the cover, but there is much to value inside. So, if your initial reaction is like mine, don’t be put off. The contents inside are far from bland. Having recently finished reading this book, I find my reaction is very much like Amanda (a CEO who wrote the Foreword). It feels a lot like a mentoring session with William (he helped me as my business mentor for several years). His voice and charm shine through and I encourage you to read this book slowly, giving yourself time to reflect on the questions it poses.

What makes up Intentional Mastery?

The structure of this book reveals both the breadth of aspects to consider when seeking Mastery and the polymath nature of the author. Part One is an introduction to both William’s focus (helping leaders Build a Better Business) and Mastery as a topic. Building on those helpful definitions, the last chapter in Part One is all about intentionality. It reveals the motivation and focus you need to develop into Mastery on purpose. It doesn’t arrive by genetics or happenstance.

The middle section of the book summarises what is really needed in a strategy. One that will Build a Better Business. If you are like the many leaders who are now sceptical of strategy because of too much corporate nonsense over the years, this is well worth a read. William helpfully summarises what is needed into five key areas, all starting with S: Self, Skills, Systems, Sales and Signposting.

Each of these is an important element of building and sustaining a successful business. William brings to life (through case studies and his own experience) what each looks like when done well. He uses this approach to demonstrate that a leader may develop Mastery in different areas. An important conclusion is to stop trying to be a generalist. The road to Mastery is one of greater focus and more niche specialism. Together with a leader’s growing awareness of their own capability and where they need to partner with others.

So what is the journey to Mastery?

If I had one criticism of the above content (Part Two) of this book, it would be that it distracted my thinking. William has so much to share on what businesses need that it caused my mind to reflect on that topic as much as personal Mastery. Knowing the author, it is a reflection of his generous nature. He is always ready to share hints and tips where they will help others, and his interests are broad. But I fear some readers, like me, may get distracted from the central premise: how can a leader successfully travel the road from Novice to Mastery.

That said, there is very helpful content on that topic in this book, as well. You just need to prioritise and focus. It will help those who have not read William’s previous post on this blog to reprise his model of this journey. The author identifies the stages of early Explorer to Novice to Practitioner, then Expert and finally Mastery. It’s important to say that all have choices to make along the way. The full journey is only for a few. Many will choose to stay at the Practitioner or Expert stages. This is a good thing too, as the world needs plenty of them.

Each chapter in this book ends with three questions or exercises. These are ways to put into practice or reflect upon what you have just read. You will learn a lot more about this journey by completing those than by reading this review. Just like my own experience of William as a mentor, these are incisive questions that help. Take time to pause and consider. There is effort and cost in choosing to go further on this journey to Mastery and you need to both know yourself better and decide if you want that.

The real secret is mastering joy & being yourself

For me, the gold dust in this book is reserved for Part Three. Here, William gets personal. Too many leaders and leadership books focus on theories and practices, without enough focus on the individual. As William rightly argues in this section, there’s no point in taking this journey to Mastery if you don’t enjoy it. Your biggest asset is you and you need to both know yourself better, manage your energy levels and focus on what suits you.

In Part Three, William shares heartwarming stories of those who have made a real difference in the world through their work and found joy in that. He expands on what he shared with us in his review of “A more beautiful question”. Plus, he shares some inspiring examples of those who have developed into Masters of their craft. This really helps to bring to life the choices and development needed to get there.

But the chapter which I enjoyed most is just called “Being Yourself”. It is an insightful exploration of the importance of being true to yourself and noticing. Through the personal stories of a number of William’s friends (it’s a tribute to the character of the man that so many who work with him become his friends), he brings this to life. The final reflective questions are also very powerful for leaders’ reflections. When did you last identify parts of what you do that you will protect time to research? Can you dare to dream that there are parts of your practice where you can aspire to be world-class?

Should you buy Intentional Mastery?

If you have an inner desire to excel to reach your potential and make a real difference in the world – then yes. If you value comfort and work/life balance boundaries above the pursuit of excellence – then no. Are you are willing to take your time to read this book and reflect on the questions it poses? Then yes. Do you want a quick page-turner that will tell you the answers and a simple model to apply? Then no.

I hope that helps and well done, William. This book is a suitable tribute to the excellent personal work that you do with leaders. Including helping them achieve their personal Mastery.