Zen Leader Blog

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

Realizing the Zen Leader: Recounting the Journey

Posted by Anthony Attan

Sep 23, 2012 11:52:00 AM

We often hear from readers of The Zen Leader, talking about their reactions, experiences or insights as they read the book and work through the activities.  Since some are just too good to keep to ourselves, here is a note we received from James Murphy, who described his own reaction to several of the chapters.

What has landed for me are the following:

Chapter 5: From Playing Your Strengths to Strengthening Your Play

While I’ve done a lot of these personality tests in the past and pretty much know where I am, this was a fun chapter. It was also unique in the sense that this is the first book or course I’ve seen where it is proposed to develop personality attributes that are not your strengths. I think this makes a lot of sense and I will try to do this. Instinctively, for example, I know my collaboration skills are weak and I’ve been trying to get my wife to join a ballroom dancing class to help me to improve this skill. I also know my driver skills are weak and my main physical activities are running and weight lifting. So it is curious that these activities have not resulted in stronger driver attributes.

As a side note, I chose to read this book not for work but for personal reasons. I am building a sailboat racing team and quickly realized that I was not performing as a leader properly. At work, I am not a manager, I am an architect, but I know to turn concepts into reality I need to lead so the concepts here will help me in that role.

Chapter 7: From Driving Results to Attracting the Future.

While reading this chapter and doing the exercises I was able to see a future that I hadn’t seen before. In a sense, I knew what some of the components of the future might be but I didn’t put them together into a larger whole. With this exercise I was able to do that. The unfortunate part of the results of this exercise is that if indeed my vision is the future and I am to lead the world to it, then I’ve got a lot of work to do because the future is very big indeed and fundamentally different than what we currently see. The silver lining is that I can see a path that starts with limited scope and can be incrementally expanded. (Note, this vision applies to my work, not sailing)

Chapter 10: From Delusion to Awakening

This chapter is good since it sets down some practical steps to make the lessons from this book stick. Indeed practice is required to acquire a Zen mindset. This chapter makes that clear and provides some good guidance. Indeed much of the book, and this chapter in particular were incomprehensible to me mostly because I have not experienced the mind state described in the book. Specifically I am talking about the concepts from the Surangama Sutra and understanding self and host versus guest, etc. I believe that in order to become the whole I will need to consistently practice and probably re-read this book a couple of times. As an ex-competitive runner, I believe my approach will have to be similar to athletic training. A plan, a schedule, making time and being consistent and disciplined.



Topics: zen leader, the zen leader book, mindfulness, spirituality, well-being, zen, the zen leader, energy patterns, leadership, Ginny Whitelaw, managing energy, zen leadership

The Zen Leader Animated.

Posted by Anthony Attan

Sep 10, 2012 2:49:00 PM

Check out this animated video explaining why we might want to flip around our sense of self, and how it's possible.



Topics: zen leader, the zen leader book, mindfulness, zen, meditation, the zen leader, zen leadership

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

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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