Last week I was at an intensive Zen training and did the opposite of what I normally do. Normally I bring Zen meditation and physical elements into leadership programs to accelerate “walking the talk” of learning. Last week I was asked to bring leadership skills to Zen trainees. What a wonderful experience! It showed me again why Zen and leadership belong together: not only does Zen take leadership to a new level, but leadership brings Zen into the world where it can do some good. It also showed me how the skill side of whole leadership – e.g., being strategic yet operational, results focused yet engaging people – paradoxical as it is, is still the easy part. The hard part is getting out of our own way, and that’s where Zen comes in.
Because Zen cuts the root of ego, while most development programs only add more branches to the tree. And only as we relinquish our small self, does the true, whole self emerge, which is really whole leadership. But to say this is a smooth, well-oiled process with a guaranteed return on investment (ROI) would be a lie. It can be a mess. The great writer and Zen practitioner, Natalie Goldberg, calls it our “Wild Mind.” Over the centuries, it’s been likened to a wild ox. The patient practice of Zen brings about the seamless re-unification of this boundless force of nature with our own hands and feet and everyday behaviors. And when those behaviors are skillful leadership behaviors, we free others as well.
But it’s a disruptive, unpredictable process. As the Zen leader in us emerges, we may leap to a game-changing innovation for our company, or we may decide we’re in the wrong job. How do you predict or sell the ROI of that? I suppose statistically you could show that if you get X number of leaders to a more mature stage of development, a critical number of them will propel the company forward. But it takes courageous leaders and forward-looking companies to take that risk with their own life or their own money. I’m looking for those leaders and companies, if you know any. And I welcome your thoughts on how the breakthrough of Zen and the discipline of leadership measurably support each other - or not. As for the daring-to-be-disrupted, you can download a free meditation guide. The ROI could be infinite!