Zen Leader Blog

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?

Topics: awareness, Maslow's hierarchy, voice of resistance, servant leaders, the zen leader, leadership, leadership development, Ginny Whitelaw

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

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Jan 22, 2013 8:05:00 AM

describe the image
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

Leadership Development and the Rule of "Just Enough"

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Sep 12, 2012 8:11:00 PM

enoughThe Swedes have a great word for this: Lagom, which roughly translates as "enough, sufficient, or just right." Too often, in today's world of avid consumerism, we get caught in a "good, better, best" way of thinking and find ourselves applying that principle to all aspects of our lives, including leadership. Our tendency to overdo can lead to "leadership obesity" which manifests in many undesirable ways: the ultimate problem-solver who fails to empower their employees, or the achievement-driven leader who drives for success at all costs. "Just as we don't serve ourselves well from overeating, we do ourselves no favor by over-indulging these needs," states Ginny Whitelaw, in The Zen Leader. If you'd like a memorable visual of "leadership gorging," I invite you to watch The Zen Leader Animated.

To develop leaders using the concept of "just enough," The Zen Leader prompts us to pause and ask those questions that bring self-awareness to the situation. "When we jump in and do a task that we're comfortable with, but someone else could be doing, we might ask, Am I really the right person to do this, or am I doing this only to satisfy my own need for accomplishment? When we push ourselves too hard and edge toward burnout, we might ask, Does this situation call for this extreme response, or am I doing this because I'm only happy when I'm achieving?" The answers won't always be the same, but they will bring clarity to the source. "Pausing to face our needs at any level, and ensuring we're meeting them just enough and not to the point of greed, we make the flip from compulsively using life to serve our needs into using our needs to effectively serve life."

Changing awareness from "It's all about me" to "I'm all about it" is one of the "flips" in consciousness that The Zen Leader walks you through and is an integral part of leading by the "just enough" rule. Do you recognize the faces of "It's all about me?" Look at these statements below and see how they can be flipped around to change your perspective and how you serve the situation:

  • Only I can do this.  >  I'd enjoy doing this, but who else can learn from this?
  • I need to market myself better.  >  How can I add real and visible value?
  • 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 merge, I may be out of a job.  >  Our groups merging may signal it's time for a new chapter for me.
If we meet our needs at every level using "just enough," what we become are Servant Leaders, who don't get "stuck" in the vicious cycle of self-fulfillment. We have fuel and freedom to serve the whole situation, letting our strengths and true nature shine.

The Zen Leader is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and e-reader editions. "Like" The Zen Leader on Facebook to receive regular updates.


Topics: servant leadership, just enough, lagom, the zen leader, leadership development, Ginny Whitelaw

Ginny Whitelaw on the Stu Taylor Show

Posted by Anthony Attan

May 4, 2012 10:00:00 AM

Ginny Whitelaw is interviewed on the Stu Taylor radio show (www.stutaylor.com) about her new book, The Zen Leader: 10 Ways to go From Barely Managing to Leading Fearlessly.  Listen to the full interview below.


Topics: zen leader, managing change, the zen leader book, zen, the zen leader, leadership, leadership development, whole leadership development, whole leadership, managing energy, managing stress, zen leadership

Video: Workshop Experience

Posted by Anthony Attan

Apr 26, 2012 9:38:00 AM

In the final installment of our video series, Dr. Ginny Whitelaw, author of The Zen Leader, discusses what type of experience a participant can expect from one of her workshops or speaking engagements.


Topics: zen leader, the zen leader book, speaking engagement, leadership workshop, zen, the zen leader, leadership, leadership development, zen leadership

A Business Case for The Zen Leader

Posted by Anthony Attan

Apr 19, 2012 11:15:00 AM

The Zen Leader

Topics: zen leader, paradox, the zen leader book, zen, the zen leader, leadership, leadership development, business coaching tool, zen leadership

What does spirituality have to do with Leadership Development?

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Apr 15, 2012 7:09:00 PM

I have been engaged in numerous discussions lately in leadership groups and have noticed an interesting trend: It doesn't take very long for the conversations to swing into territory we'd consider spiritual.

Whether we are centering ourselves through breathing or relaxation before an important presentation or finding ways to be "more present" and engaged when interacting with others, today's leaders are stepping over into territory once only defined as "new age." The coaching community not only recognizes this, but already integrates mindfulness into their coaching sessions. Leadership books like The Zen Leader show us how to get out of our own way by flipping to new levels of consciousness. Mind-over-matter principles don't seem to be enough anymore. The spiritual side of leadership appears to be coming out of the closet and into the mainstream.

I came across this article called The Progression of Power which offers an interesting perspective on leadership over the ages and how modern spiritual concepts are influencing today's leadership style. It's easy to see why books like The Zen Leader are answering the need for leadership at a higher level (preview it here).

One of the keys to becoming a better leader seems rooted in this universal connectedness that we call spirituality. Is this a fluke or a serious trend that will impact business operational style as well as environment? I'd love to hear what others think.

Topics: spirituality, the zen leader, leadership development

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

Video: Why Spend the Energy to Become a Zen Leader?

Posted by Anthony Attan

Apr 4, 2012 3:31:00 PM

In this video, Ginny Whitelaw, author of The Zen Leader, discusses the importance of spending the effort and energy to lead like a Zen Leader. 


Topics: zen leader, stress, the zen leader chapter 1, zen, the zen leader, leadership coaching, leadership, leadership development, managing energy, zen leadership

Video: What makes the Zen Leader special?

Posted by Anthony Attan

Mar 29, 2012 8:37:00 AM

"It was the first time in my own writing that I really felt I could get out of my own way.  And I hope that same sense of inspiration comes across to the readers." - Ginny Whitelaw, author of The Zen Leader.


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