This may seem like an odd concept to the make-it-happen mindset of most leaders. It sure was for me. I took great pride and experienced great satisfaction in ticking things off my list, reaching a goal, and striving for the next one. That’s not to say that these qualities are bad. They come in quite handy when driving for an end result. But there are times when the desired “result” is not yet clear. I don’t wake up every day with a clear vision of what the day will look like or have a need to make something happen. This is when I am most willing to slow down enough to listen. “In listening for the future, we suspend trying to make anything happen, and trust,” states Ginny Whitelaw in The Zen Leader. This is what opens the door to inspiration.

Ask leaders where they get their best ideas, and you’ll probably hear the winning answer heard ’round the world… “in the shower.” Now, nobody gets in the shower to get a good idea or make something happen. But when the water hits our skin and we relax, our minds also open up. We enter a connected state. “It’s what happens when we quit trying to make something happen,” continues Ginny. “What I’ve noticed is that if I’m quiet enough to truly listen for what wants to happen, it’s always there, always playing.”

“In listening for the future, we are also listening to ourselves, because we and the future are not two different things. We are listening for our interests, passions, perhaps a sense of calling or the joy that comes with expressing our gifts. We are listening for what holds us back from the future we aspire to, what is too stuck, too small or too afraid to move forward. As our self awareness grows, the future we wish to attract naturally becomes a more realistic match to who we are.”

This still may seem like a far-out concept, but you’ve more than likely already experienced this many times in your life. Have you ever had a thought suddenly pop into your head out of the blue? Once I was driving to work on a packed expressway when that little voice told me to get out of that lane. I listened – and not 10 seconds later a truck carrying a full load of steel pipe started fishtailing and began losing its load, right there in the lane I’d been in. This was a powerful lesson for me about listening to that inner voice. Another one of my favorite authors, Julia Cameron, refers to this experience as “synchronicity.” Some believe it to be the voice of God. Call it what you will, we can all benefit from hearing it and responding when we do.

It can be a difficult path to simply trust when you are in leadership role. We are accustomed to making decisions that are based in solid fact. We like predicable outcomes based in knowledge and experience that follow a clear and defined path. Yet, brilliant ideas don’t generate this way. Brilliance comes from those “aha” moments when we are opened up, trusting that the right thing will happen, the right solution will appear, a creative flash of inspiration will occur.

“To flip from driving results to attracting the future, we have to flip into this connected state, which also flips our relationship to time,” writes Ginny. I invite you to experience this yourself by doing this powerful timeline exercise from The Zen Leader. It will help you see the connection between yourself and the future, as not a distant thing that’s “out there”, but as a part of you already.

I have also found that sitting meditation, done once a day for 15-20 minutes, has improved my awareness, thus my connectedness. If you are interested in beginning your own practice of meditation, there are many wonderful books to help you on this path, but here’s a little “quick start” guide that can give you the basics.

Listening for the future is a skill that defines our greatest leaders. They know when it’s time to push and when its time to slow down, listen and trust. Through constant listening, we connect with the larger forces at work and can use them to great effect. Think about your own experiences and the impact your inner voice or intuitive listening has had in shaping where you are today. Any you care to share?

I’ve been on a mission the last few years to simplify my life. It actually began out of necessity a few years earlier as I combined households with a man who was a more accomplished “collector” than I was. How did we ever get all this STUFF?! So, it began… an item by item triage that put everything in a category of keep, sell, gift/donate, or throw away. Little did I know that this lesson would carry over to other aspects of my life as well.

In this country, we’ve all become massive collectors. It goes way beyond the laughable “the person with the most toys wins.” Some economist might call it consumerism, but we don’t really consume it all. Most of the time it just sits there, taking up space. When you start running out of spaces to put things, we often move into bigger spaces. In 1973, the average square footage of a new construction home in the US was 1,525. By 2010, it had grown to 2,169.

Two years ago, we downsized again into a home roughly half the size. Some things went into storage, but for the most part, we simplified again – taking only what we really needed and loved. No clutter. Pretty soon simplification spilled over into other areas of our life. Our meals became smaller and a lot healthier. It was amazing how good all this felt – like I had more breathing room. And breathe I did.

I found myself drawn to meditation and yoga. The simple act of following my breath increased my awareness of all that is going on around me. I became more aware of all the mind chatter and began to recognize the voice of ego and the fears it works so hard to protect. “By doing less, we sense more,” states Ginny Whitelaw in The Zen Leader. This act of simplification is at the very heart of the “flip,” from Controlling to Connecting.

In leadership, “we can experience this flip when we do less ourselves and reach out to others more,” continues Ginny. “When leaders have delegated away many of their everyday tasks to attend the programs I teach, I always caution them about how much they take back when they return on Monday morning. Who can help? Who can learn from this? Where else in the organization could we get support? The more we connect with people around us and their ideas, the more we scale beyond the capacity of being merely a ‘one-man-band.’ Not only does connection help leadership scale to greater levels, but it’s even essential for the uptake of our individual efforts…It is the flip that gets people moving with us, not because they have to, but because our connectedness brings them along.”

Connectedness rewards us in many ways. In its most complete state, we experience Samadhi – where “I” disappears and we reach total absorption in the moment. Athletes call it being “in the zone.” But this is not something we can will, rather it is a natural state that arises on its own. We can nurture the conditions for Samadhi through meditation and breath. If you’ve never tried this, here are some basic exercises from The Zen Leader that are both relaxing and rejuvenating. I encourage you to give them a try.

Simplification has taught me many things. I have learned that I don’t need half the things I once thought were important to own. Letting go of material things has allowed me to more easily let go of other things, like anger and disappointment. I also worry less because I spend more time in the moment rather than role-playing future scenarios that never play out. The greater “space” in my life allows me to connect more with people and activities I enjoy. Less is more – I get it now.

I invite you to do this simple experiment. Right now, focus on where you are. Take in your whole surroundings, the smell of the air, the posture of your body and the feeling of your clothes, the things around you. Pick one thing you see. Is it important to you? If it is, appreciate its function and place in your life. Is it something you really don’t need? Then do what I did and sell it, gift it, or throw it away… and enjoy the freedom that begins to develop ?

As leaders, we are often in teaching mode – communicating our vision, letting others learn from our experience, and correcting and adjusting our course to accommodate the winds of change. But there are times when it’s best to sit back and let others experience the situation rather than be led through it, in other words, to lead from behind.

This was one of the hardest lesson for me to learn. Maybe it’s the mom in me. I was forever in “teaching” mode and it became very easy to carry this through to my managerial style. But there are many things better learned firsthand, by really feeling it. Here’s a few I’d like to share.

Not everybody wins
Learning to lose graciously – now there’s a good life lesson! You gave it your all, it was darn good stuff, you pitched it flawlessly and they went with somebody else. Having spent many years as a creative director in advertising, I can tell you, this scenario plays out all the time. But for every winning team, there is at least one losing team. You can’t lose sleep over it. After a defeat, the faster you can get your team to “acceptance” the better off you’ll all be. At your “post-mortem meeting,” do a thorough review of what worked and didn’t. Get everything out in the open, including time to vent. I encouraged everyone to keep a file drawer with “great work that didn’t sell.” You never know if it may find life in some other variation somewhere down the road. It also helps us remember that doing great work still matters, whether it wins the day or not. Just keep doing great work, and the rest will take care of itself.

In the book, The Zen Leader, by Ginny Whitelaw, she talks a lot about this letting go and not taking things personally in the “flip” From It’s All About Me to I’m All About It. If we peel back the layers of frustration when our work doesn’t have the desired outcome, we’ll usually find a fear underneath about not being good enough, secure enough, appreciated enough or something enough. When we quit “requiring” that our work somehow lead to personal sucess or admiration, we can put it out there more clearly, more cleanly in service of others. “When we are that leader who is “all about it,” “it” manifests more completely through us in the Now, without the footprints of self-doubt or self-glorification,” states Ginny.

Take me there with you
I’ve seen hundreds of pitches with all the best visual aids you can imagine, but those pitches generally didn’t work when people just told or showed me their solution without letting me experience it or arrive there with them. Sometimes I’d find myself thinking, “I know this is your baby and you’ve been living with it for weeks now, but I’m seeing it for the first time, so don’t just spring it on me and expect me to be as enthusiastic as you are.” If you want others to be enthusiastic about your idea, put yourself in their “beginner minds,” and take them on a journey to experience that enthusiasm for themselves. This is a “flip” from “show” (or tell) to “experience,” from thinking from your own perspective using empathy to craft a story. Set the stage with a protagonist – maybe you or a client or customer – and the key issue or challenge that must be overcome. You might share your thought process, or the other things you thought of and rejected, and the “aha” moment when suddenly something clicked. As you tell your story, it gives a chance for others to experience what you experienced, to feel the passion you feel, and for your passion to show as well. Become a storyteller when making your presentation and you’ll have more winners than losers.

Actively engage me
I was fortunate to attend a leadership program at The Institute For Zen Leadership that took this lesson to heart. During the course of this 3-day workshop, our group was physically involved at every step – from the quietness of sitting to active movement in the 4 energy patterns, where we immersed ourselves the experience of each pattern from inside out. Now, maybe it’s not practical to get people on their feet during a meeting, but there are plenty of ways to actively engage an audience. I always encouraged groups to interject any thoughts/comments when I was presenting. Some might view this as an interruption, but I never did. Getting conversations going during your presentation does two things: 1) it allows you to become the listener, giving you good feedback that you may be able to use/refer back to later in the presentation. 2) it begins to create ownership with the people you are presenting to. Some of my best presentations were when this happened and it forced me to “go off script.” I remember one in particular, where by the end of the meeting, the whole room was engaged in conversations on how they were going to roll this out internally. It doesn’t get any better than that.

What this all boils down to is that people want to feel an emotional attachment to you, your ideas, and your company. This can’t be done if you’re in coping mode, which defends or distances itself. This is probably why From Coping To Transforming is the very first chapter and flip in The Zen Leader, as it’s the starting point of real leadership. “This is one empowering flip,” states Ginny. “It reframes everything from a focus on the self-having-a-problem to the creative agent who learns from what’s going on and often changes the game…it get’s your engergy going in the right direction, which is from the inside out – adding the best value you have to offer.” I’ve included a link to that chapter above. Give it a read. It may change the way you think about transformative power that unfolds rather than pushes.

We’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…

Nothing 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?

Has it ever seemed like the right person came into your life at exactly the right time? This has happened to me on many occasions. For example:

the man who introduced me to another man, whom I later married
the artist who unblocked me when I was feeling stuck in my work (this has happened to me twice)
the teacher who deepened my personal growth or showed me a new perspective to a problem I was struggling with (still counting!:-)
We are forever meeting new people and crossing paths with others, mostly on a casual basis. But, I pay closer attention now than I used to. You never know who may be that next person of influence… the one who will shake up your thought processes, help build your vision or lead you into an area of your life that is not yet revealed.

There is a television show called Touch, now in its second season, that speaks to this same idea. Keifer Sutherland plays Martin, the father of a challenged 12-year old mute son. He discovers his son has the ability to perceive seemingly hidden patterns that connect every life on the planet. In each episode, Martin helps decipher these numbers and put the pieces together in order to help people all over the world whose lives touched one another – whether they knew it or not.

This whole idea doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me anymore. In fact, I try to approach every introduction and encounter with a kind of watchful anticipation. I have stopped passing judgment on who is important and who isn’t, and as a result, my life gets richer and more interesting all the time. Judgment, or “limiting beliefs,” makes us smaller.

In the book, The Zen Leader, Ginny Whitelaw describes how we are our own worst enemies when it comes to limiting beliefs. “‘I know’ is possibly the most self-limiting phrase in any language,” states Ginny, “for it stops our mind on an ‘I’ that is certain of conventional delusion. Not because we’re stupid,” she continues, “but because we are working with limited sensors, vaguely grasping a three-dimensional projection of an at-least-10-dimensional universe, through the biases of personality, culture, and so on, selecting what we notice and how we make meaning. In conventional matters, such as knowing the rules of the road or where we keep our toothbrush, conventional knowing works just fine, and we’d exhaust ourselves if we constantly questioned it. But in assumptions we make about the world, our customers, the future, the people closest to us, or the possibility of innovation, we can get huge mileage out of knowing less and learning more.”

Are you aware of how your own filters play into the world you create for yourself? Here’s an exercise you might enjoy from The Zen Leader that lets you play with these connections between “how you are” and your everyday world.

In this time of global connectivity, where information is now measured in millions of terabytes, our own influence is broader than we can possibly realize. Making connections, and using awareness to uncover the threads that each connection may offer, may seem like a painstaking process, but it’s not. All we really need to do, as Ginny states, is “Suspend knowing.”

Our future and the potential of our own lives on this planet may be entwined in the very next person we meet. Be aware that even a casual introduction might lead to an important piece to the puzzle.

How many followers are in your camp? How many people do you influence? Have you ever stopped to think about the number? Probably not. It’s more staggering than you could possibly imagine.

When we talk of leadership, we’re usually referring to our direct reports and other employees within our company. We can also apply it to our customers and vendors. If we think about it, we might extend our view of leadership to our family, friends or even our community. But our leadership doesn’t stop there. If we think of leadership broadly as authentically adding value, it can be active in every interaction we have, every day of our lives. There is no OFF switch when it comes to leadership… and no limit to whom we may influence, or how even the most remote individual may influence any given situation. Expanding our peripheral vision to include all these players is key. It will improve our imagination and promote better decision making.

This reminded me of a “flip” from The Zen Leader, from Local Self to Whole Self. Even when we think we are looking at the big picture, are we really seeing all of it? Here is an exercise that you can do from that chapter to show you just how wide your sphere of influence is in any given situation. When we change our field of view to see ALL the players and listen closely to their individual voices, we become aware of crucial perspectives that affect the whole. Our imagination has ground in which to operate and our actions become more tuned to the whole context. As Albert Einstein once said, ” Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.” Care to see a glimpse?

I invite you to take this challenge:

Choose one issue that surrounds you and do this exercise, From Local Self to Whole Self. Don’t be overwhelmed in the enormity of all the players in your situation, but relax into it and “let intuition operate with your good intentions,” as Ginny Whitelaw suggests in The Zen Leader.” Through this process of flipping to our whole self, our local self is changed. We are changed in what we notice, what we think, and how we act. Because we are changed, a new reality is possible in the Now. As we flip from local self to whole self, we manifest a whole new picture. And eventually, we don’t have to imagine what if we were the whole picture. We can say with clarity, ‘I am that’.” As you explore these connections and imagine “what if…” see how your own interconnectivity provides boundless possibility.

In this spinning, face-paced world, our influence is more like a galaxy than a single solar system. We never know whom we may influence, or who may play an important role in future events.

It’s also important to remember that one does not “become” a leader. It is a privilege given to us by others – and we have no control over its breadth.

The more we can see the big picture by expanding our peripheral vision, the more we become it. This flip is the difference between “making the world a better place to transforming one’s self to a better place through which a better world manifests,” states Ginny. I agree 100%!

I’m having one of those low energy days. It doesn’t seem to happen very often for me, as I have a lot of Driver energy. But it’s easy to spot the cyclical nature of my energy patterns when I’m reaching one of those low points. The blahs creep in, I feel a sort of sadness overhanging everything, my motivation starts to slip and I find faults in my relationships with others. Boy, do I ever hate this mode. I much prefer my high-energy days where I can run circles around everyone, pump out the work, and stay upbeat and positive (almost to the point of driving everyone crazy :-).

It’s easy for me to start beating myself up when my energy is low – I’m not getting enough done, I feel like things are taking too long, or I’m not using my time the way I “should” be. But like all other aspects of life, we need balance – renew and refresh, stretch and release, drive and recover. This got me thinking… If this low energy state is part of our natural cycle, how can we use it to its maximum potential?

Lower your expectations
It made me cringe just writing this. But when your energy is low, setting lofty goals (like multiple tasks you want to accomplish) become impossible demands that sap your reserves even further. Consider yourself on generator power. Use it for essential purposes and one or two small things on your To Do list. Big appliances don’t operate well in a brown out and either do you. Lower your expectations for a little while and feel good about the small things you can accomplish in low energy part of the cycle.

Recharge the batteries
Back in the old days, I used to push through low energy periods like they were some sort of evil to overcome. Take a lesson from the animal world and give your body more rest. For me, this doesn’t mean staying in bed til 11:00 am, although for some people this may seem like nirvana. Find some time to let your body just relax. Grab your tablet or a book and do a half hour of uninterrupted reading, meditate, or take a nap. Find a rejuvenating activity you rarely let yourself do, and do it.

We take better care of our cell phones than our own bodies. In the book, The Zen Leader, Ginny Whitelaw writes, ” Steady stress pushes a system to habituate and run down over time. Pulsing it keeps the system in a state of fresh activation. What’s our equivalent to plugging in and recharging?” She suggests, “A best practice combines brief (2-minute) breaks each 90 minutes or so, with longer breaks (30 minutes) for meditation or exercise once a day. Does this really seem all that hard? It’s not. If you’d like some suggestions for mini-breaks and centering activities, you can download them here.

Follow the 3 Laws of Energy Management
Energy is renewable resource, when we’re talking about our own bodies, but it IS a cycle that has differing needs at each stage. The Zen Leader suggests we follow the 3 Laws of Energy Management, which also directly relate to the “flip” from tension to extension. In a nutshell, they are:

  1. Rhythm, not Relentless – Build a rhythm into your day, including practices that stretch and renew.
  2. Down, not Up – Settle down and breathe deeply to and from your center.
  3. Out, not In – Extend your energy through the extensor side of the body, relaxing the front flexor-side.

For a more detailed explanation of these 3 fundamentals, I suggest you download the 3 Laws of Energy Management, from The Zen Leader.

I used to think, when I started to see signs of my low energy mode, I had to hit bottom before I could start the climb back up. And in a scientific sense, I suppose that’s still true. But what we DO when we are at the bottom, is key. We can beat ourselves up, wallow in our own misery and extend our stay in this part of the cycle, OR… we can accept it as a renewing stage of energy management and enjoy the opportunities it presents us for reflection and rebirth. I prefer to choose the latter.

What ways do you recharge and renew your energy?

For more resources based on the flips of The Zen Leader, visit www.thezenleader.com. To learn more about managing energy using the 4 patterns of the nervous system and the FEBI that measures them, visitwww.focusleadership.com/practitioners. Contact anthony@focusleadership.com to learn more about our programs.

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!

We’ve all experienced it – that total absorption in our work (or play) where we experience total connectedness with the subject at hand, things become effortless and time seems like it’s standing still. In Buddhism, this state is called “Samadhi.” In sports, it’s called being “in the zone.” This is, in fact, where our best performance, our best ideas and our highest levels of satisfaction come from. So the real questions are:

Can we cultivate this state for easier access?
How much more could be possible if we operated from this state on a regular basis?

Setting the Stage
Our ego delivers constant brain chatter in our daily lives – all day, every day. While this voice can serve us well and keep us out of harm’s way, in many respects, it limits our ability to explore other options, including the very option of turning it off ? In order to encourage Samadhi arising in us, we need to temporarily quiet this voice so all of our senses can be engaged in the task at hand. In the work environment, this also means eliminating as many distractions as possible. The simple act of shutting your door and turning off email alerts sets the stage for fewer distractions. If you are in a more open work environment, develop a signal, even if it’s just a sticky note stuck to your cubicle, that says “no interruptions for awhile.”

Center Your Breathing
Why do we do this? Because Samadhi cannot be intentionally created. “Samadhi arises on its own. It cannot be willfully entered because that which would “will” it is non other than the stand-apart “I” (ego). That said, the body and breath can be developed in ways that become conducive to this condition arising,” states Ginny Whitelaw in the book, The Zen Leader.

Mindful breathing brings the body and mind in focus together. These 3 simple breathing exercises are a great way to quiet the mind and bring it in sync with the body. Remember, the thought, “I want to be in Samadhi,” is not the same as being in Samadhi. The thought, “Let me have a quiet mind,” is not the same as a quiet mind. Becoming one with our breathing is a way past thought into a more deeply absorbed state.

God is in the Details
So, you’ve eliminated some obvious distractions, have entered through breathing, and can now bring the same condition of total absorption to your work. Whether your approach is slow or fast, perform every detail with the same quality standard you expect for the whole. You are now the creator, addressing all considerations… with all things considered. Take satisfaction in completing each step with mindful excellence, feeling into and one with the whole creation.

Someone once said that “God is in the details.” It’s through these details that I can get completely lost in the moment. Think of it like a symphony tuning up before the concert begins. One by one, you hear each instrument come into harmony… each one dependent on the others while maintaining its own creative voice. If one were left untuned, the performance would suffer. The same holds true for your project.

From Controlling to Connecting
Moving from controlling to connecting is one of the important “flips” discussed in The Zen Leader. Although this chapter focuses on our relationships with people, I see how it also has a lot to do with how we tackle a problem or perform a task. Forcing an answer is not always in our best interest. Developing a solution from a connected state is always more sustainable in the long run. Why? Because through our own connectedness we are able to lead from a “big picture” perspective – it’s at the very heart of being connected.

The more we can optimize our conditions for Samadhi arising in us, the easier and more likely it is to happen. Sitting meditation has long been a proven way to clear and concentrate the mind. Simple tasks can also work if done mindfully. And what is a major project, but a bunch of simple tasks all linked together?

Do you have some special way you engage yourself more fully in the project at hand? Please share.