Zen Leader Blog

Leadership Advice: Listen For the Future

Posted by Diane Chencharick

May 15, 2013 5:50:00 AM

inspirationThis may seem like an odd concept to the make-it-happen mindset of most leaders. It sure was for me. I took great pride and experienced great satisfaction in ticking things off my list, reaching a goal, and striving for the next one. That's not to say that these qualities are bad. They come in quite handy when driving for an end result. But there are times when the desired "result" is not yet clear. I don't wake up every day with a clear vision of what the day will look like or have a need to make something happen. This is when I am most willing to slow down enough to listen. "In listening for the future, we suspend trying to make anything happen, and trust," states Ginny Whitelaw in The Zen Leader. This is what opens the door to inspiration.

Ask leaders where they get their best ideas, and you'll probably hear the winning answer heard 'round the world… "in the shower." Now, nobody gets in the shower to get a good idea or make something happen. But when the water hits our skin and we relax, our minds also open up. We enter a connected state. "It's what happens when we quit trying to make something happen," continues Ginny. "What I've noticed is that if I'm quiet enough to truly listen for what wants to happen, it's always there, always playing."

"In listening for the future, we are also listening to ourselves, because we and the future are not two different things. We are listening for our interests, passions, perhaps a sense of calling or the joy that comes with expressing our gifts. We are listening for what holds us back from the future we aspire to, what is too stuck, too small or too afraid to move forward. As our self awareness grows, the future we wish to attract naturally becomes a more realistic match to who we are."

This still may seem like a far-out concept, but you've more than likely already experienced this many times in your life. Have you ever had a thought suddenly pop into your head out of the blue? Once I was driving to work on a packed expressway when that little voice told me to get out of that lane. I listened - and not 10 seconds later a truck carrying a full load of steel pipe started fishtailing and began losing its load, right there in the lane I'd been in. This was a powerful lesson for me about listening to that inner voice. Another one of my favorite authors, Julia Cameron, refers to this experience as "synchronicity." Some believe it to be the voice of God. Call it what you will, we can all benefit from hearing it and responding when we do.

It can be a difficult path to simply trust when you are in leadership role. We are accustomed to making decisions that are based in solid fact. We like predicable outcomes based in knowledge and experience that follow a clear and defined path. Yet, brilliant ideas don't generate this way. Brilliance comes from those "aha" moments when we are opened up, trusting that the right thing will happen, the right solution will appear, a creative flash of inspiration will occur.

"To flip from driving results to attracting the future, we have to flip into this connected state, which also flips our relationship to time," writes Ginny. I invite you to experience this yourself by doing this powerful timeline exercise from The Zen Leader. It will help you see the connection between yourself and the future, as not a distant thing that's "out there", but as a part of you already.

I have also found that sitting meditation, done once a day for 15-20 minutes, has improved my awareness, thus my connectedness. If you are interested in beginning your own practice of meditation, there are many wonderful books to help you on this path, but here's a little "quick start" guide that can give you the basics.

Listening for the future is a skill that defines our greatest leaders. They know when it's time to push and when its time to slow down, listen and trust. Through constant listening, we connect with the larger forces at work and can use them to great effect. Think about your own experiences and the impact your inner voice or intuitive listening has had in shaping where you are today. Any you care to share?
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Topics: leadership, Ginny Whitelaw, leadership advice, awareness, the zen leaders, inspiration

Leadership Advice: Why "Experiencing" is better than "Showing"

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Apr 13, 2013 7:18:00 AM

laughingAs leaders, we are often in teaching mode - communicating our vision, letting others learn from our experience, and correcting and adjusting our course to accommodate the winds of change. But there are times when it's best to sit back and let others experience the situation rather than be led through it, in other words, to lead from behind.

This was one of the hardest lesson for me to learn. Maybe it's the mom in me. I was forever in "teaching" mode and it became very easy to carry this through to my managerial style. But there are many things better learned firsthand, by really feeling it. Here's a few I'd like to share.

Not everybody wins
Learning to lose graciously - now there's a good life lesson! You gave it your all, it was darn good stuff, you pitched it flawlessly and they went with somebody else. Having spent many years as a creative director in advertising, I can tell you, this scenario plays out all the time. But for every winning team, there is at least one losing team. You can't lose sleep over it. After a defeat, the faster you can get your team to "acceptance" the better off you'll all be. At your "post-mortem meeting," do a thorough review of what worked and didn't. Get everything out in the open, including time to vent. I encouraged everyone to keep a file drawer with "great work that didn't sell." You never know if it may find life in some other variation somewhere down the road. It also helps us remember that doing great work still matters, whether it wins the day or not. Just keep doing great work, and the rest will take care of itself.

In the book, The Zen Leader, by Ginny Whitelaw, she talks a lot about this letting go and not taking things personally in the "flip" From It's All About Me to I'm All About It.  If we peel back the layers of frustration when our work doesn't have the desired outcome, we'll usually find a fear underneath about not being good enough, secure enough, appreciated enough or something enough.  When we quit "requiring" that our work somehow lead to personal sucess or admiration, we can put it out there more clearly, more cleanly in service of others.  "When we are that leader who is "all about it," "it" manifests more completely through us in the Now, without the footprints of self-doubt or self-glorification," states Ginny.

Take me there with you
I've seen hundreds of pitches with all the best visual aids you can imagine, but those pitches generally didn't work when people just told or showed me their solution without letting me experience it or arrive there with them.  Sometimes I'd find myself thinking, "I know this is your baby and you've been living with it for weeks now, but I'm seeing it for the first time, so don't just spring it on me and expect me to be as enthusiastic as you are." If you want others to be enthusiastic about your idea, put yourself in their "beginner minds," and take them on a journey to experience that enthusiasm for themselves. This is a "flip" from "show" (or tell) to "experience," from thinking from your own perspective using empathy to craft a story. Set the stage with a protagonist - maybe you or a client or customer - and the key issue or challenge that must be overcome.  You might share your thought process, or the other things you thought of and rejected, and the "aha" moment when suddenly something clicked.  As you tell your story, it gives a chance for others to experience what you experienced, to feel the passion you feel, and for your passion to show as well. Become a storyteller when making your presentation and you'll have more winners than losers.

Actively engage me
I was fortunate to attend a leadership program at The Institute For Zen Leadership that took this lesson to heart. During the course of this 3-day workshop, our group was physically involved at every step - from the quietness of sitting to active movement in the 4 energy patterns, where we immersed ourselves the experience of each pattern from inside out. Now, maybe it's not practical to get people on their feet during a meeting, but there are plenty of ways to actively engage an audience. I always encouraged groups to interject any thoughts/comments when I was presenting. Some might view this as an interruption, but I never did. Getting conversations going during your presentation does two things: 1) it allows you to become the listener, giving you good feedback that you may be able to use/refer back to later in the presentation. 2) it begins to create ownership with the people you are presenting to.  Some of my best presentations were when this happened and it forced me to "go off script." I remember one in particular, where by the end of the meeting, the whole room was engaged in conversations on how they were going to roll this out internally. It doesn't get any better than that.

What this all boils down to is that people want to feel an emotional attachment to you, your ideas, and your company. This can't be done if you're in coping mode, which defends or distances itself. This is probably why From Coping To Transforming is the very first chapter and flip in The Zen Leader, as it's the starting point of real leadership. "This is one empowering flip," states Ginny. "It reframes everything from a focus on the self-having-a-problem to the creative agent who learns from what's going on and often changes the game...it get's your engergy going in the right direction, which is from the inside out – adding the best value you have to offer." I've included a link to that chapter above. Give it a read. It may change the way you think about transformative power that unfolds rather than pushes.

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Topics: leadership, the zen leader, Ginny Whitelaw, energy patterns, leadership advice, leaders, Dr. Whitelaw, making presentations, Institute for zen leadership

Leadership development is not a straight path

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Mar 16, 2013 4:55:00 AM

winding roadNothing seems to run in a straight line. We start something, move things forward and then the backslide begins. Whoever penned the phrase, "two steps forward and one step back" understood the pattern of growth -  something we can see in everything from our personal relationships to leadership development. I guess I always thought that knowledge and learning were more linear - and preferably ascending at a 45 degree angle:-) Silly me! Learning advances in stages, with sometimes numerous setbacks along the way. Unfortunately, many people give up after the first one or two. Why? Because it feels too much like failure and we take it personally. Don't confuse failure with the normal forward and backward motion of growth.

How do you react to the first setback when working toward a goal?
It's so easy to take things personally when setbacks occur. What don't people like about my goal? Why aren't they on board with me? What did I not take into account? These simple questions, while varied in their answers, all have a common denominator - me, my, I. When we can make the "flip" from It's All About Me, to I'm All About It, we gain freedom, energy and the ability to move forward for the greater good.

The many faces of It's All About Me
No leaders I know think "it's all about me." "And yet," as Ginny Whitelaw states it in the book, The Zen Leader, "The need to meet our own needs is deeply human and doesn't disappear the moment we start caring about others or connect ourselves to causes." Take a look at a few of the phrases she's heard during her coaching career from high-flying, highly skilled leaders who indeed care about the people around them, and see if any of these ring true for you:
  • Only I can do this (fast enough, correct enough, and so on)
  • I (or my team) want credit for this
  • I'm worried about money
  • It bothers me that my peers don't like me
  • I need to be heard (or respected, or promoted, etc)
  • I'm burning out; I work too hard
  • If our groups get merged, I may be out of a job.
Perhaps you have your own I-centered statement you can add to the list. All of these have one thing in common - they relate to a current need asking to be met.

Maslow recognized human needs and gave us a simple way to understand how they build on one another in his hierarchy of needs. But we don't scale this hierarchy only once in a simple linear fashion. Instead, we go back and forth - "down to the physical level when we are hungry and up to the self-actualization level when we are doing our best work," adds Ginny. When we map the faces of It's All About Me into Maslow's hierarchy, we begin to see the root need that is trying to be met. For example:
  • Only I can do this -> self-esteem, personal power
  • I'm worried about money -> security
  • I'm burning out; I work too hard -> physical
  • It bothers me that my peers don't like me -> affiliation

Awareness opens more doors
Why is it important to map this out? Because when we discover the underlying fear/need that is not being met, we become aware of where we tend to get stuck in Maslow's hierarchy. "Really understanding how our needs function, not as a judgment against ourselves but with curious exploration, moves them from being faces in disguise to faces we recognize," Ginny further explains. Awareness gives us the ability to see those needs and the freedom to choose beyond them for the greater good.

Making the flip from It's All About Me to I'm All About It
When we can invert our way of thinking from a self-serving focus to one that focuses on serving, we are ready and fully capable of moving ourselves and others forward again with our goals. Let's take those same I-centered statements and see what they look like after making this eighth flip from The Zen Leader:
  • Only I can do this -> I'd enjoy doing this but who else can learn from this?
  • I'm worried about money -> I can be prudent about money and resourceful about living with just enough if I have to.
  • If our groups get merged, I may be out of a job -> Our groups merging may signal that it's time for a new chapter for me.
  • It bothers me that my peers don't like me -> even if Jane doesn't like me I'm going to help her anyway.
It's not as hard as you think to make this flip in consciousness. Here's a helpful guide from The Zen Leader, Flipping the Voice of Resistance, that maps out many of the common areas where leaders get stuck and how to flip them around.

Just because we now understand the pattern of growth that moves backward several times along the way doesn't mean we want to linger there when it happens. We can listen to the voice of resistance and become aware of the fear/need it is trying to protect and then ask ourselves, "If I could take my need out of it, how could I become All About It?" It's nothing more than listening, learning and getting out of our own way. Adjustments and decisions we make based on the whole picture are always better.

"When we work with a true steward, one who is creating a more valuable world for the sake of others, it brings out the best in us and we get bigger. When a great leader like President Kennedy reminds a nation 'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.' he pulls people up Maslow's hierarchy toward a greater sense of who they can be in service to others, By contrast, the politician who promises it's all about you, and that he'll go to the Capital to 'bring back your money,' draws people down into angry selfishness. As leaders we are not only tending to our own hierarchy of needs, but inspiring (or dragging) others up (or down) Maslow's hierarchy as well. As we draw more people up toward their self-actualizating potential, we see more creativity, agility, spontaneity, and broad-based thinking, and less fear," states Ginny. And nothing draws people to a leader more than when they feel inspired to be their best self.  Why lead people anywhere else?
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Topics: leadership, leadership development, the zen leader, Maslow's hierarchy, Ginny Whitelaw, awareness, voice of resistance, servant leaders

Leadership Advice for When You're Running on Empty

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Feb 6, 2013 10:12:00 AM

low energy

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Topics: leadership, energy, the zen leader, Ginny Whitelaw, energy patterns, leadership advice, leaders, Driver, rhythm of the day

Leadership advice - When things don't go as you want them to

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Dec 11, 2012 9:47:00 AM

leadership disappointment Change is hard. It never happens as easily or as quickly as you want it to, especially when you are the one leading the charge. You put all the systems in place… you keep everybody in the loop on your progress… you might even hear little signs of encouragement along the way that lead you to the false conclusion that this important initiative will be a piece of cake. Then it all goes to pot and you ask yourself, "What the heck happened?"

If this sounds all too familiar, I empathize. Welcome to my present world. But this time, I am not taking it personally. I've developed a certain level of awareness over the past few years that is not letting this situation get its hooks in me. Because its NOT about me. So often we forget this and let emotions rule our follow up actions.

The Zen Leader talks a lot about this "flip" in consciousness in Chapter 9, From Local Self to Whole Self. It's a concept that can be difficult to understand, but when you make that flip, it's easy to see that there are a lot more factors in play than you may have initially realized. Here's the basic process:

WHO - Become aware of all the players
Become aware of the many people that are playing into the current situation. Make a mental note of each one, or even write them down. Who are all the immediate players in the situation? Who might be considered secondary players? I encourage you to expand your thinking to future people who may be impacted by this change.

WHAT - Consider the needs and fears
There is a reason, usually more than one, why people are resisting this change - and the reasons can vary widely by individual. Go back to your list of the players and do some role playing. What factor might be swaying them in another direction? What are they fearful of? What need is not being met by this change? This exercise allows you to "become the other person," as Ginny Whitelaw states in The Zen Leader. It might benefit you to write these down as well.

Now, look over your list. Get a sense of the WHOLE picture, not just your own perspective on this change. "The whole-self answers son't necessarily contradict those of the local self so much as add new dimensions, or broaden the approach. They may even reveal a better way to state the goal, or an overarching issue that has to be dealt with first," continues Ginny.

This has been a valuable exercise for me, and I hope can add benefit to you, too. If you would like a more detailed look at this flip, along with some good real-life examples, I encourage you to download the guide: Implementing Change - Understanding All The Players.

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Topics: leadership, managing change, change management, the zen leader, leaders, instituting change, leadership advice, awareness, whole leadership. whole leadership development

A Little Help From My Zen

Posted by Anthony Attan

Oct 11, 2012 9:30:00 AM

IZL log med
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Topics: zen, zen leader, leadership, zen leadership, whole leadership, the zen leader book, whole self, Ginny Whitelaw

Realizing the Zen Leader: Recounting the Journey

Posted by Anthony Attan

Sep 23, 2012 11:52:00 AM

We often hear from readers of The Zen Leader, talking about their reactions, experiences or insights as they read the book and work through the activities.  Since some are just too good to keep to ourselves, here is a note we received from James Murphy, who described his own reaction to several of the chapters.

What has landed for me are the following:
 

Chapter 5: From Playing Your Strengths to Strengthening Your Play
 

While I’ve done a lot of these personality tests in the past and pretty much know where I am, this was a fun chapter. It was also unique in the sense that this is the first book or course I’ve seen where it is proposed to develop personality attributes that are not your strengths. I think this makes a lot of sense and I will try to do this. Instinctively, for example, I know my collaboration skills are weak and I’ve been trying to get my wife to join a ballroom dancing class to help me to improve this skill. I also know my driver skills are weak and my main physical activities are running and weight lifting. So it is curious that these activities have not resulted in stronger driver attributes.


As a side note, I chose to read this book not for work but for personal reasons. I am building a sailboat racing team and quickly realized that I was not performing as a leader properly. At work, I am not a manager, I am an architect, but I know to turn concepts into reality I need to lead so the concepts here will help me in that role.
 

Chapter 7: From Driving Results to Attracting the Future.

While reading this chapter and doing the exercises I was able to see a future that I hadn’t seen before. In a sense, I knew what some of the components of the future might be but I didn’t put them together into a larger whole. With this exercise I was able to do that. The unfortunate part of the results of this exercise is that if indeed my vision is the future and I am to lead the world to it, then I’ve got a lot of work to do because the future is very big indeed and fundamentally different than what we currently see. The silver lining is that I can see a path that starts with limited scope and can be incrementally expanded. (Note, this vision applies to my work, not sailing)
 

Chapter 10: From Delusion to Awakening

This chapter is good since it sets down some practical steps to make the lessons from this book stick. Indeed practice is required to acquire a Zen mindset. This chapter makes that clear and provides some good guidance. Indeed much of the book, and this chapter in particular were incomprehensible to me mostly because I have not experienced the mind state described in the book. Specifically I am talking about the concepts from the Surangama Sutra and understanding self and host versus guest, etc. I believe that in order to become the whole I will need to consistently practice and probably re-read this book a couple of times. As an ex-competitive runner, I believe my approach will have to be similar to athletic training. A plan, a schedule, making time and being consistent and disciplined.
 

look-inside-the-zen-leader

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Topics: zen, zen leader, leadership, zen leadership, managing energy, the zen leader, the zen leader book, spirituality, mindfulness, well-being, Ginny Whitelaw, energy patterns

Step Back, Reflect and Practice What You Preach

Posted by Anthony Attan

Jun 24, 2012 10:02:00 PM

book stack
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Topics: zen leader, leadership, tension, stress, zen leadership, managing energy, flips, control

When Driving For Results Does More Harm Than Good

Posted by Diane Chencharick

May 13, 2012 8:07:00 AM

I come from a family of high-achievers, so driving for results is a very familiar pattern. We reward leaders who are good at this "push" strategy. But often times, their teams suffer and collapse under the constant pressure. People feel like they are "always playing catch-up"  with these high-powered individuals, and the result is burn-out, or the loss of valuable talent as they move elsewhere to relieve the strain. So, what's the alternative?

Like any marketing expert will tell you, a "pull" strategy, or one where the customer is drawn in rather than being pushed upon, is equally and often more effective than its counterpart. Lets think about this in terms of leadership. If we envision a future, can a leader attract the people and conditions to bring it about? Does the Law of Attraction apply here? The Zen Leader will tell you YES.

Slow down
The first step to attracting the future is to slow down and stop. This may seem contrary to your way of doing things, but by slowing down you have a greater sense of your market, your customer, your world - not just what's happening but what's missing, too. Stopping, if even for a moment, allows the mind to change gears and sense the opportunities.

look-inside-the-zen-leader
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Topics: leadership, the zen leader, flips, law of attraction

Overworked and underpaid? How would Zen Leadership help?

Posted by Ginny Whitelaw

May 6, 2012 12:19:00 PM

In connection with a webinar we hosoverworkedted last week around The Zen Leader, a premier coach in Singapore contacted me, wondering how a Zen perspective would address issues he typically hears from clients.  Here was his list:

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Topics: zen, zen leader, leadership, zen leadership, Maslow's hierarchy, the zen leader, the zen leader book, flips

Welcome to the Zen Leader Blog

A blog that transforms:

This blog is dedicated to the concepts described in the book The Zen Leader by Ginny Whitelaw.  In this blog we discuss how these concepts are applied to a variety of current situations and applications, helping us all unleash the Zen Leader within us!

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