To answer this question, we first need to have an understanding of what zen brings to the leadership equation. In the simplest terms, zen is a state of being fully connected. Terms like "whole self" and "whole leadership" have been used to describe zen, which makes it seem that the path (and the payoff) to zen leadership is a bigger and more enlightened self, allowing us to lead fearlessly with all the tools of the universe at our disposal. This is absolutely true. But the paradox lies here: in order for us to let our zen leader emerge we must first get out of our own way. That means letting go of one of our most valuable possessions -- one that we have nurtured continually through our leadership climb -- our ego.
Why? Because ego gets in the way. It is our own definition of our self that is small and limiting in every way possible. It dictates how we act, dress and speak. It affects our decision making and our life choices. Ego fights furiously for all the things that ego loves... like power, control, recognition, praise... to feed its hungry appetite. Only when we can move beyond ego do we see a whole self emerge that is limitless in all its potential.
Which gets me back to my original question -- is zen leadership really possible? The answer is YES! according to The Zen Leader... but it's not a smooth ride. Like most big rewards, the path can be difficult. What we find as we peel back the many layers of ego, one tenacle at a time, is a series of "flips" in consciusness that happen -- from controlling to connecting or from coping to transforming -- and with each flip comes a lighter, more agile leader. The more we can release, the more we can gain. It's as simple (and difficult) as that.
It reminds me of an old Bill Murray movie when his mantra was "baby steps." I know this doesn't sound very zen-like, but enlightenment sounds too lofty a goal for me. The important thing is to tap into all this unused potential. The leaders who do are capable of true transformation -- in their lives, in their companies and in the world.
Have you taken a baby step only to find a larger space in which to lead? Please share your experience.