Zen Leader Blog

Leadership Advice: What to do when you're out of ideas

Posted by Diane Chencharick

May 27, 2013 7:53:00 AM

ideasNobody really runs out of ideas, but sometimes it sure feels that way. Especially those times when you desperately want something miraculous to happen… a big increase in sales, a new client to boost your business, a big idea that suddenly changes everything. Nobody wants to feel like they're tapped out. Here are some thought starters I've used over the years to help stimulate the creative process.

Read something
Pick up a book, a magazine or some other reading related to your issue. Nothing stimulates your thinking like seeing what has worked and not worked for others. When I was an art director in advertising, I began every major project by flipping through a few issues of Communication Arts. Just seeing brilliant work done by others gets the brain excited about the possibilities of the project at hand. It not only puts you in a mode that says "I want to do stuff like THAT!" but it gives your mind creative bits and pieces to begin to play with. I might see a special way that the type was handled, or a photo combined with a chunk of color that could give me a starting point for something I'd never tried before. Ideas spawn other ideas. Let the work of others ignite that spark of inspiration in you.

Involve someone
We've all heard the phrase, "Two heads are better than one," but sometimes we feel like WE are the ones who have to solve something, prove something, or lead the way through messy waters. That's ego talking, not what makes sense from a broader perspective. We all have distorting filters that color our perceptions in different ways. As Ginny Whitelaw states, in The Zen Leader, "Our layers of distorting filters based on our human limitations, culture, family, gender, age, strengths, weaknesses, experiences, fears, position in life, and on and on, create our perceptions and the meaning we make of 'out there'." Get someone involved in helping you solve the problem. In fact, get several someones. You'll find the benefit in collaboration and may uncover a solution you wouldn't have come up with on your own.

Step back
If you're like me, when you're trying to fix something and it's not working, you do what you think is the logical thing - push harder. This rarely ever works, yet we continue to drive, thinking more effort will do the trick, when what we really need to do is stop.

One of the flips in The Zen Leader, From Driving Results To Attracting The Future, speaks to this beautifully: "The flip to attracting the future is simply connectedness applied to sense what future is possible and how to bring it into the present. I say 'simply' because it's not complicated, but it IS subtle. If we're driving results full steam ahead, and not getting where we want to go, or not wanting what we're getting, we have to slow down to even approach this state of connectedness in which acute sensitivity gives rise to insight. Better yet, stop."

Take a break, step back, and stop what you are doing. The energy of the situation needs to realign itself and it can't happen when you're pushing. Driver energy is only one of the 4 energy patterns that you have available to use, and the situation is begging for something else. If you'd like a handy desktop reminder of the other energies besides the pushy Driver, you can download a free FEBox (named after the FEBI that measures these energy patterns).

The creative process IS a process, much like gardening. We need to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, feed/water, and sit back and wait. And when we can involve others in the process, like planting more than one seed at a time, a garden of ideas awaits us.

What other idea-generating practices work for you?

Topics: leadership advice, inspiration, generating ideas, ideas, the creative process, energy management, the zen leader, flips, Ginny Whitelaw, energy

How to recognize - and free yourself - from coping mode.

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Jan 22, 2013 8:05:00 AM

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I was in a conversation recently with some other coaches that really struck home. We were talking about one of our biggest challenges - leaders who take transformational advice and try to make it fit into their current situation. Or, as one coach put it so well:

 "The challenge is how to bring something into a world that doesn't have space for it and which automatically co-opts it into the prevailing mindset, which perpetuates the problem."

This got me thinking: How can we help leaders see the "flip in consciousness" that is needed to get to the next level?

Leadership development has long been about fixing problems, utilizing strengths, and amplifying personal resources that improve one's ability to successfully implement change and drive toward goals. Doing things better, faster, and with less resistance is the goal. So we help patch here and fix something there and see signs of improvement that lead us to believe the current paradigm is still working, but it's often not the case. If we look deeply, what we often find is a leader in coping mode - someone who's barely hanging on and has maxed out their ability to make refinements that deliver. Not only that, but a study at the Kings College of Psychiatry in London showed that when people multitasked, their effective IQ dropped 10 points! These are the same leaders who think their performance is not affected at all.

The "Aha" Moment
Have you ever had a stroke of brilliance, where you suddenly realize the answer you've been puzzling over in one immediate flash? Then you've already experienced a flip in consciousness. It is immediate and goes from this to that. It is a quantum leap without steps or process, which are both inwardly profound and outwardly physical. As Ginny Whitelaw states in The Zen Leader, "Not only will you find YOUR energy transformed by these flips, but the tools of leadership are transformed as well: how you set vision and strategy, create the future, develop and inspire others, and optimize had choices."

The very first "flip" that The Zen Leader walks you through takes you from coping to transforming. Coping mode immobilizes us. It keeps us stuck in the present situation. "Accepting 'it is what it is,' the Zen Leader in us flips from defensiveness to curiosity, from resistance to creative engagement. What can we learn from it? How do we fix the damage, change the game, or leverage larger forces at work," asks The Zen Leader. In this mindset, we allow the flip to happen.

Look at things upside down
In art, when we are starting an experimental painting, it is important to put it on an easel and turn it in 90 degree rotations to look at it from every angle. Quite often, we choose to finish it from a very different angle than the one we started with. Why? Because we are pleasantly surprised by how things look when turned sideways or upside down. It can become more dramatic and less expected. The focal point can change. Shapes take on an entirely different look. This is what the flip from coping to transforming allows you to do. It changes your perspective, widens your field of view and gives you more alternatives to consider in your leadership.

The Zen Leader walks you through 10 flips in consciousness to help you become a better leader, but this first one is the foundation for all the rest. If you'd like to read this first chapter, From Coping to Transforming, a free download is available here.

Enjoy your journey!


Topics: zen leader, awareness, coping to transforming, the zen leader, flips, leadership development, Ginny Whitelaw

Mindfulness and Well-Being: Another Trend or an Evolved Practice?

Posted by Anthony Attan

Jul 9, 2012 12:55:00 PM

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Topics: the zen leader book, mindfulness, well-being, zen, meditation, the zen leader, flips, energy, zen leadership

Step Back, Reflect and Practice What You Preach

Posted by Anthony Attan

Jun 24, 2012 10:02:00 PM

book stack

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

How THE ZEN LEADER Helped Me Deal With Alzheimer's

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Jun 19, 2012 7:30:00 AM

I have a dad who suffers from Alzheimer's. Well, maybe this statement isn't exactly right. He struggles and those around him suffer, is probably closer to the truth. As his condition deteriorates, I find myself becoming more and more an extension of himself, telling him where to put the garden gloves and how to find the cereal aisle. But the best lesson I learned in dealing with this dreaded disease came from a couple "flips" in consciousness I experienced, that I can attribute to my reading of The Zen Leader. I would like to share that experience with the hope of helping others who may be in a similar situation.

When dad was first diagnosed, the whole family, including me, flew into a panic. We cried, we worried, but our biggest fear of all is best summed up by that little inner voice that kept asking, "How am I going to HANDLE this?" Luckily, I had just read The Zen Leader and was able to stop myself from this perpetual downward spiral into helplessness and self pity. Here are the two lessons that changed things for me.

Lesson Number One: BE PRESENT
I do not live with my father, so when I arrived for a visit, it was typical for me to spend an inordinate amount of time doing some sort of mental assessment of where he was compared to our last visit and if he had slipped further. This did two things: it turned me into an inquisitor - probing, questioning and making my mental assessment, but worst of all, it robbed me of the precious time I had with this fine man. I don't do that anymore.

Chapter 1 of The Zen Leader takes us From Coping to Transforming. I found this particularly beneficial in my current situation. I stopped looking for further signs of deterioration and started just being present and with him. Telling him about my day, my week, my life. Talking about my golf game and maybe taking him to the range to hit a bucket of balls (he loves golf) or outside in the yard gardening and watering plants. I realized that my constant forecasting of what's to come was holding my fear in the present. What I found was, by just being present in the moment, I can enjoy him in some of the same ways I always had - right then, right now. The man I have loved my entire life is still in that body. Would I feel any different toward him if he lost an arm or a leg? Losing part of his mental capacity is no different. I can still love him and cherish him as I had before. I just don't ask him what he did yesterday:-)

Lesson Number Two: SEE THE BIG PICTURE
I am not the only one directly affected by my dad's dementia. My mom, my brother, my sister, my children, friends and all respective family members are all dealing with this in their own way. When I read Chapter 9 of The Zen Leader, From Local Self to Whole Self, this all came together for me.

There is a little exercise where you map out all the people who can even remotely be part of this big picture and then role play and see what their needs are in the situation. By "casting a wider net," you are able to see how you can fulfill other's needs and bring more players together in harmony to address a current problem. I know this was written for leaders, but it works in this situation, too. I was able to see my mother's extreme fear and hear her "I can't do this" voice. I was able to feel my siblings' fear (who live in different states) of being hopelessly afar and helpless. I was able to sense the uncomfortable feelings their best friends now felt in being around them. Once I saw this, my "plan of attack" became pretty clear to me.

My mom desperately needed to feel that she wasn't alone. I now do whatever I can to help reduce this fear. I talk and listen. I take dad out of the house for awhile. I stay overnight on occasion. I have secured an outside firm to do twice weekly visits, as a starting point for their future needs. I've seen a dramatic shift in her - not just in her own happiness and state of mind but in how she interacts with my father. Consciously or unconsciously, she has decided to join the team:-)

I also now send email updates to my siblings every visit I have. Sometimes it's just reporting. Sometimes we discuss ideas. It keeps them in the loop and being part of the larger picture. I can't express enough the value in having us all working together as a unified team.

I know The Zen Leader was written as a leadership book, but the lessons inside can be applied for all aspects of life in general. For a glimpse, click here. Or, here's a link to Chapter 1 of the book. I expect it will bring great value to you as it did to me.

Topics: alzheimer's, dementia, the zen leader, flips

The Illusion of Control

Posted by Diane Chencharick

May 30, 2012 8:03:00 AM

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Topics: zen, the zen leader, flips, control, control issues, delegation

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.


Topics: law of attraction, the zen leader, flips, leadership

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:


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

How do most leaders get stuck in Maslow's Hierarchy?

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Apr 29, 2012 6:01:00 PM

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

3 Common Myths about Zen and Why Zen Helps Leaders

Posted by Ginny Whitelaw

Apr 10, 2012 4:12:00 PM

I’ve heard these myths many times, but today I found all 3 of them in the same article.  So here goes…

whitefaces vase

Topics: zen leader, the zen leader book, zen, meditation, the zen leader, flips, leadership, leadership development, whole leadership, zen leadership

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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