Zen Leader Blog

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.


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

Leadership Advice: When decisions offer no "good" outcomes.

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Mar 30, 2013 2:24:00 PM

decisionsWe've all heard the phrase, "The lesser of two evils," but sometimes leaders are faced with decisions where even the lesser of two evils is not clear. Sometimes decisions seem equally crummy in either direction, depending on your perspective. I was reminded of this while watching the news the other night, as yet another crisis evolves in the Middle East. It appears, once again, that an action by the United Nations and/or the United States will be forthcoming, and we will be judged harshly by our involvement or lack thereof.

So what do you do when faced with decisions where no one is going to be happy? It's sometimes hard not to seek out acceptance, appreciation, and validation that we are making the "right" decisions. We want our followers to stand behind us and support us, and when they don't, we can take it personally - as a slap in the face that says, "I don't trust you are doing the right thing." This is where clarity and awareness are most critical. They are how to remain clear on our intent so we make decisions that benefit the greater good. They're how we are able to weave through and not be clouded by all the voices we hear that are based in fear. They're how to find some peace ourselves, when faced with a difficult paradox.  So when you find yourself caught between rocks and hard places, here are three things that might help.

Sit and Breathe
There's only one way I know to stop all the mind chatter long enough to see through the fog: sitting meditation centered on the breath. I've recently recommitted myself to this, which has been an on-again, off-again practice for me. By paying attention to everything that's going on in and around my body, by dismissing thought as it tries to enter (or blending it with my breath), I am able to experience life as it is, non-judgmentally. This state, when practiced, can then be carried over into daily life including those times of tough decision-making. Meditate. And keep going back to it when you quit doing it. For the novice, here's a very simple guide to sitting meditation that also lets you experience the 4 energy patterns that work within you.

See the Big Picture
In the book, The Zen Leader, Dr. Whitelaw calls this "flip" From Local Self To Whole Self. What she suggests we do is to look beyond our own immediate inner circle to see all the players and, through role-playing, feel and experience the fears, challenges, advantages and disadvantages around your decision. To me, this is like viewing things from the peripheral wash of a floodlight, vs. the single beam of a flashlight. How much more we can see! Here's a helpful little guide from that chapter called From Local Self To Whole Self: Seeing All The Players, that illustrates how far-reaching our decisions really are.

Manage the Paradox
One of the most difficult challenge any leader may face is in managing a paradox that has a high emotional component to it. We see this in religious beliefs, political beliefs and cultural differences all the time. They create potential for over-reaction and under-reaction that keep us locked in the extremes of one side. "The leader who can see and show others that we're not dealing with a 'slippery slope' so much as a figure 8 of managing a healthy tension within bounds we can agree upon, moves the dialogue - and the company - to a higher level," states Dr. Whitelaw.  "The leader who can tease apart 'what exactly did we do last time that caused problems?' and identify thresholds within which we can maneuver successfully raises the bar of performance." Here's a guide to managing paradox, from The Zen Leader, that may be very helpful to you.

The toughest decisions we must make leave everyone feeling that they're not quite happy with the outcome. I was told this from a court arbitrator once, and it certainly holds true when you are managing a paradox. It's so much easier to take sides and have at least SOME of the people supporting you. But with paradox, that's not in the best interest of the company, the country or whatever collection of people you lead. Through clarity and awareness, it's easier to get through this unpleasantness. An unfaltering vision and a clear mind will help you navigate these waters.

And don't forget to breathe…


Topics: managing paradox, awareness, Dr. Whitelaw, mindfulness, decision making, meditation, the zen leader, whole self

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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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