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

A Little Help From My Zen

Posted by Anthony Attan

Oct 11, 2012 9:30:00 AM

IZL log med

Topics: zen leader, the zen leader book, zen, leadership, Ginny Whitelaw, whole leadership, whole self, zen leadership

How Role Playing Helps With Problem Solving

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Jul 19, 2012 8:52:00 AM

If my many years in marketing taught me anything, it was the importance of understanding your customers and prospects. Before any creative project was started, we would develop a "Creative Blueprint" that clearly stated our objectives and goals. The Main Selling Proposition was considered to be the most important part of the blueprint. But what I found to be most useful - not just then, but now in my own leadership work - is getting a grip on Current Attitudes and Desired Attitudes. Here's how you can apply this strategy to find solutions to many of the issues you face:

Think about a problem you'd like to address. For this example, let's use something very basic like: "I want Sarah and Tom to work better together." Grab a pencil. Now it's time to write in each voice what Current Attitudes and Desired Attitudes exist around this issue. The easiest way to do this is in first person. For example, in imagining Tom's voice, I might write:  "Sarah does most of the work herself so I never feel like an important part of the team."  A desired attitude from Tom might be "My contributions to the team are important and recognized." Really try and BE that other person - feel what they feel. This kind of role playing brings awareness to the needs and aspirations that are not being met and will give you a broader sense of how to develop a solution to satisfy all needs at hand.

This exercise can be applied to bigger issues as well, like growing a business. It is described in great detail in The Zen Leader, chapter 9, From Local Self to Whole Self. By "casting a wider net," we are able to see all the players surrounding the issue and the part they play in the desired outcome. Ginny Whitelaw lays it out quite beautifully:
- state your goal
- widen your net
- role play each person. Imagine what if…
- let imagination become reality

"The more I understand perspectives I never would have imagined on my own, the more realistic my imagination becomes," states Ginny Whitelaw. When we "engage with empathy," bigger possibilities emerge, or what she describes as tapping into our "whole self."

Give it a try!

Topics: role playing, the zen leader, Ginny Whitelaw, 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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