Carl He, one of our IZL alumni and an active Zen student at our Shanghai dojo, sent this article shortly after he was hired for a General Management position.
“I definitely like you. You’re hired!”
After a 6 hour long job interview for the top management job, it was clear that the owner was satisfied and decided that I was the right person for the job. Of the 6 hours, about 5 hours was my interviewer excitedly talking about the company and the projects that are currently running; and only about 1 hour in total was about discussing me or my qualifications. Clearly it was already decided beforehand that I was going to be hired.
How come it was so easy? If I said it was due to my exceptional qualifications that blew him away, I would be only telling about 30% of the truth. Actually, my qualifications were good, but not exceptional. Prior to this, I have had experience in managing small division teams, but only 5 years of total work experience after university graduation.
What was it then that decided this favorable outcome? What was the factor propelled me to be the new top manager for a 20 person strong team and to be responsible for their well-being as well as the bottom line results of the company? Hint: not related to myself.
Not long ago when I was first approaching for the prospect of taking over the top management position in this company, I was immediately challenged with questions on leadership that couldn’t be answered lightly. My interviewer sent an email and asked me in straightforward fashion questions including the following:
- What is the difference between a manager and a leader?
- What is your leadership style?
- How will my division managers, that are 5-6 years older than you, accept you as their manager. What are the potential risks and how can these be avoided?
- What are the largest challenges for the manager of a (trading) company?
Initially the answer to these questions didn’t materialize.
It was only after reviewing “The Zen Leader” by Ginny Whitelaw Roshi, I found myself to be home. Although I had participated in the Zen Leader seminar program, it didn’t hit me to use the concepts from Ginny’s teachings in an interview setting. I was reminded by a friend to look at the book, and once I started reading, it all became clear. Then it was easy to respond to each of these questions from a grounded base and with confidence. Directly useful were chapters 7 (Driving results to attracting the future), 8 (It’s all about me to I’m all about), and 9 (Local self to whole self). In a way, by reading the book while writing my answers I must admit it felt like cheating. The answers were so obvious and so clear right before my eyes. I could answer everything spot on.
In fact, at the interview, the owner was excusing himself for not addressing some of the issues that I brought up in my answers to the questions, and hoped that this would be remedied after my arrival.
Was it cheating to use the book to answer the questions? It hit me that all the principles in “The Zen Leader” are pertaining to a natural state as human beings. Ginny invites us to ask the question: “What wants to happen in this situation?” All it takes is a small nudge to open our world to new possibilities. True potential leadership is available to us all. If we are open, one hint will open our senses to perceive that we are already leaders. I didn’t feel embarrassed using the concepts from the book, because it spoke to me deeply from a fundamental level.
Some of the transformational concepts I took ownership of from the “The Zen Leader” were:
- Expansion of the sense of self
- Mastery of paradoxes
- Aligning individual goals with the larger picture
- Developing the four energy patterns of leadership: organizer, driver, visionary and collaborator; applied to this specific situation: creativity in standardization; flexibility in strict procedures; compassion within strength; vision with defined milestones
So am I encouraging people to use “The Zen Leader” as a cheat sheet to ace a job interview?
Yes and no.
The principles, concepts and exercises in “The Zen Leader” are true to the core; and all human beings can truly align to them with practice without doubt. If one would take the book and use the concepts to fake an interview and only pay lip service to practice, it would be harmful to the world. However, if one was to “fake it until you make it” or even better “fake it until you become it” - I can’t see why the universe would be against oneself.
There is no need to let the ego dictate morality in this case (“This is not me”), instead why not let the self expand and incorporate “The Zen Leader”; thus becoming The Zen Leader.
As encouragement to myself and others along the way: Go out there and become it!