We’re losing control.

At least in the traditional sense of being able to control outcomes, nail down all the variables, or compel others to do our bidding. This theme has stood out to me in everything I’ve been reading, writing, and doing – or trying to so J – this year. Here are just a few examples from my summer reading: Liz Wiseman reminds us that leaders who over-control become diminishers rather than Mulitpliers of the talent around them. They also become dangerous decision makers, not drawing on others’ perspectives, and their certainty can be completely misguided (feel free to forward this newsletter to Putin).  In Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux traces how the strong control hierarchies of traditional organizations have necessarily given way to more distributed control and decision making that is more responsive to changing conditions on the ground, whether we’re talking a special forces team or a customer service rep.  He gives us a blueprint for a new kind of evolutionary organization emerging now where central control is replaced by self-managed teams guided by a unifying purpose. Eric Ries argues in The Lean Startup that businesses today need this kind of agility, which is more like steering a car moment-by-moment, than shooting off a rocket preprogrammed by a 3-year plan.

This loss of control is not lost on leaders themselves. My friend, Rudy Lohmeyer, runs the Global Business Policy Council for A. T. Kearney, which hosts an annual CEO Retreat. Lohmeyer, writing about the 2014 retreat, summarized the perspectives from senior leaders in industry and government alike as recognizing we’re facing “intense evolutionary pressure…disrupting and in many cases making irrelevant existing operating models, organizational structures and decision-making processes.” The brittleness of existing institutions is colliding with the proliferation of new, technology-enabled instruments of power and influence. The choice for leaders, they concluded, is stark:either transform to be radically more agile or face an endless string of crises. Control simply doesn’t work like it used to.

But we love control. At least the Driver and Organizer aspects of our personality love control. The Driver loves it in order to win. The Organizer loves it so it can do the right thing the right way. Both love it because it represents safety, security, the terra firme under our feet. And both need that security because they feel apart from what is going on – not a part of. Fortunately, the two other patterns of our personality – Collaborator and Visionary – offer an alternative for when control is fruitless, and that is: connected agility. The Collaborator in us can sense and work with the rhythm of what is going on and play with it, rather than stand apart trying to analyze it. Our Visionary side can sense the whole picture, relax, and go with the flow. Connected agility is not just being flexible, but being able to sense, accept and work with people and conditions as they are, and still add whatever value we can. Operating with connected agility, we may still be called by purpose, and may pull others through influence, but we’re not pushing others with our own separate agenda.

Perhaps you’ve never thought a about your personality as being something you can use with agility, to control or connect as appropriate. Traditional thinking and personality assessments have typed us into being a this or a that, rather than having a full suite of possibilities available to us. But such thinking is as brittle as traditional institutions. “From beginning to end, life is a flow of energy,” Tanouye Roshi used to say. And in the human body and mind, that energy is organized into patterns we can leverage, reclaim, and play with – even though we have preferences, which we can measure with the FEBI.

If you, like me, live in the Organizer or Driver patterns a fair amount, there are probably many things you like to control. And at times, you may find yourself stuck trying to control something that refuses to be controlled. You’ll notice there’s always a tension associated with control somewhere in the body, and an intentional shift into Collaborator and/or Visionary can free up a much better way of handling what’s in front of us.

As a simple example, I was on a turbulent flight awhile ago, tensing with every jolt and drop of the airplane, until I realized I was basically trying to control the plane from seat 12A. Shifting into Collaborator, I could start to ride the bumps as simply the rhythm of the atmosphere. Opening my palms, vision, hearing and extending energy through my body I could enter the Visionary pattern where a lot of pointless tension fell away.  You might think of areas where you get tense, trying to control, and apply this downloadable exercise to shift into connected agility. You’ll find that simply becoming aware of and working with patterns will make you more agile, and that even as you use Driver or Organizer, you’ll be able to remain more relaxed and connected.

You might also find that you’d like to bring this connected agility to your workplace or into your work. Let us know if you’d like us to bring such a program to your organization, or certify you in FEBI to bring it to others. Control “out there” doesn’t work like it used to. But control “in here” works just fine when we work and play with the body-mind as one and connect with our own agility.

Ginny Whitelaw for Integral Post: March 26th, 2014

My, has Ken Wilber opened a rich territory for us to explore! I’ve read with great interest The 4th Turning – Exploring the Future of Buddhism, and applaud his efforts to bring Buddhism up to date. His Integral frame of structural “rungs” through which we grow up, states through which we wake up, and shadow conditions where we can mess up at every turn, gives guidance to countless questions that arise in practice. Reading The Fourth Turning, the possibilities for application exploded like popcorn in my mind. I hope to tease out a few of them in this forum in the months to come. But let me start with one that is of profound importance to leaders: The U Turn.

The U Turn is a cycle of transformation through states, those states being (in their simplest construct) gross, subtle and non dual. The gross state is the sensorimotor, everyday world of matter and form. The subtle state can be thought or imagined; it passes into the realm of pure energy, soul or spirit. The non-dual world is the state of Samadhi where self and other disappear, the state of no-self, oneness, emptiness. The U Turn speaks to progressing through these states to an awakening of non-dual consciousness, and then returning through the subtle and gross realms for this experience to get enacted, or to “hammer the sensorimotor realm into shape,” as Ken colorfully describes. This hammering can take some time and many U Turns, which is the difference between awakening as a momentary “aha!” and its lived embodiment. The U Turn can be both an “I” experience and a “we” experience, both of which interest us from a leadership perspective.

Figure 1. The U Turn A Cycle of Transformation
Figure 1: The U Turn – A Cycle of Transformation

How might a U Turn function in leadership? If we consider a business example, the gross realm would include products and services, customers and employees, brick and mortar and so on. The subtle realm would include elements of imagination: values and culture, vision and strategy, even the future itself: ideas that may inform the gross realm, but that “I” or “we” can imagine at a meta-level. The non-dual state of Samadhi is often not called out in business, but it happens all the time: the Samadhi of complete immersion in one’s work, or the Samadhi of a high performing team clicking on all cylinders. The flow state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has researched for years is a kind of Samadhi. Samadhi experiences differ in how they generalize, how long they last, and how deeply they penetrate through us. But most people have no reference point for even recognizing they had a Samadhi experience. (I’d heard about Samadhi for years before I could recognize it in my own experience through meditation). In that case, when “I” makes the U Turn and distills back out of Samadhi, it’s interpretation can be anything from “Wow, I’m a genius; I just had a great idea!” to, “That was a really good meeting; time just flew by.”

But let’s say from a state of Samadhi, insight arises: a glimpse into the future, an unmet need, a new direction for my company, a way forward on a vexing problem. This is not ordinary thought from the subtle state, which is still “I” centered and intentional. These are not answers contrived by cleverness. They are the functioning of no-self interfused with self: they are insights both of this world and not of this world. The job of the self is to get them into this world. So the leader, making the U Turn, looks at what has to change in the subtle realm. Specifically how does this insight lead to new values and behaviors? How would it change our business model or culture? Through these subtle tools, leaders are able to transform (i.e., literally change the form of) the gross realm into new products and services, new customers, new buildings and so on.

Figure 2a. Full U Turn Figure 2b. Sub-oribital U Turn Samadhi-based Transformation Ordinary “I”-based Change
Figure 2a: Full U turn – Samadhi-based transformation
Figure 2b: Sub-orbital U turn – Ordinary “I”-based change

Being able to make the U Turn through non dual consciousness is the work of a Zen leader: a capability in all of us (see Figures 1, 2a). Here, insight or vision is informed from a connected state, where “I” and the future are not separate. But “sub-orbital” U Turns are more the norm: where we move from gross to subtle states, and back to gross (Figure 2b). We may have fine ideas, but they’re still informed by the limits of self-imagination. In a sub-orbital U Turn, we never fully escape the gravity of “I.” As individual leaders, the gross realm is “myself in my skin.” The subtle realm we can think of as our extended self and thoughts – our net of influence and caring, our range of power or compassion, our hopes and dreams for the future. We may enter this state of imagination or reflection to consider what we need to focus on, how we can solve this or that problem, whose help we need to enlist, and so on. And then we come out of this state and myself-in-my-skin acts. This is not a bad cycle to move between: action and reflection. But if we never leave the gravity of “I”, anything we do is still of this world. It doesn’t have that that wondrous, universal quality that comes only from the full U Turn.

So how do we make full U turns? The state of Samadhi cannot be willed by the self that dissolves on entering it. But the self can be a willing participant in training and conditions conducive to this state arising. Csikszentmihalyi’s research has characterized a number of contributors to the Samadhi flow state at work, including being both highly skilled and highly challenged, merging action and awareness, getting immediate feedback, and complete concentration on the task at hand. The more general way to cultivate this condition is meditation. My line of Chozen-ji Zen adds to that training in martial arts and fine arts to “hammer the sensorimotor system into shape” as Ken might say. If we engage in deep, sincere training (which you can explore further), we both grow up and wake up. The Zen leader in us emerges as the interfusion of no-self through self, where one great dance is going on and, footprint-free, these very feet are dancing.

I recently read a most remarkable book, Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. Ken Wilber calls it “spectacular…pioneering.” Jenny Wade calls it “brilliant…a world changer.” I couldn’t agree more. Why it particularly speaks to me is that it is the organizational complement to the deep development we undertake individually in bringing Zen into leadership development. It is the blueprint by which a Zen Leader can reinvent his or her organization.

What Laloux puts into perfect context is that organizations – as a way of collaborating – have been evolving for as long as humans have been forming them. And that at every stage of development, a new form of organization becomes possible, which is better suited to the complexity of the times. He traces this development through the most primitive tribes, to might-is-right conquerors (e.g., street gangs), to organizations based on a conformist hierarchy (e.g., Catholic Church), individual achievement (e.g., Wall St. banks), and up to pluralistic empowerment (e.g., Whole Foods). Today we’re on the cusp of a new stage of human consciousness that he calls evolutionary, inspiring a new kind of organization. Twelve such evolutionary organizations became the research backbone of this book, from which Laloux distilled the culture, behaviors, structures, and HR processes that will reinvent organizational life.

What struck me in reading the book was that, given the speed and complexity of our times, and what it takes to engage the more purpose-driven, next generation digital natives, evolutionary organizations are going to have a real evolutionary advantage. Take decision making, for example. In traditional, conformist organizations, decisions are made top-down. The challenge with that in today’s environment is that conditions “on the ground” change too quickly for data and decisions to make it up and down the chain of command. Moreover, too many people become disengaged and dissatisfied with decisions over which they have no control. More modern organizations have moved to increasing amounts of empowerment at the front line, whether that’s a customer service representative or a special forces team. But still, for decisions outside of one’s empowered realm, most organizations rely on a cascading governance process involving many meetings and power point slides. Some organizations have made a pluralistic attempt at consensus-based decision making, but find it consumes too much time and dilutes accountability. The breakthrough evolutionary practice around decision making is what’s called the Advice process, where one is 100% accountable for decisions pertaining to one’s work, but must seek the advice of anyone affected by the decision. There are practices around how to seek advice and give advice when sought out, as well as surprisingly little-used mediation processes for disputes. But for the first time in organizational history, there’s no super-decider at the top who will intervene or make the call. The results, based on Laloux’s research, are more effective decisions in less time with radically fewer meetings and total ownership. An evolutionary advantage.

What holds the evolutionary organization together is a sense of purpose – not as flowery words on a wall – but a living purpose enacted through distributed leadership connected to one’s personal calling. Of course, it takes a certain maturity to function in an organization like this, and a fairly awakened CEO and Board to even want to create an organization this way. But the business results and personal satisfaction people take in achieving them are staggering.

All of which gives me enormous hope that the deep development we accelerate in bringing Zen and leadership together will have a way to manifest in reinvented organizations that can heal some of the wounds of our world.

-Ginny Whitelaw

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?
  • Etc.

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 youbecome 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!

-Carl He


I was meeting with a client some years ago – a great, bright leader – on what we were going to focus on in some work with his team. He cut to the chase: “A good day is when I get stuff done,” he said.  “Help me do that.” The practical groundedness of his answer has stayed with me. As much as we may equate leadership with its expansive qualities – setting a vision, modeling the values – grand proclamations are useless if we can’t get stuff done. Visions die on the vine if we can’t execute.  Dreams morph from motivating to maddening when we can’t bring them to fruition. This is as true for our personal aspirations as it is for businesses, organizations, or the hopes and dreams of a society.

So how do we get stuff done? You may be thinking this is going to be a boring rehash of how to set SMART goals (i.e., specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound), how to apply good project management, or how to get people moving with you. Indeed, any of those may be called for, but that’s not where I’d start. Rather, let’s look at what we’re trying to get done from a broader perspective and apply a principle I learned from one of my Zen teachers, Tanouye Roshi, and that is: driving rhythm.

Actually, we all learned about driving rhythm from the playgrounds of our youth. Think of how a swing set works. If you sit at the bottom of a swing and start flailing your legs wildly, you can exert a great deal of effort and get very little accomplished. Why? Because you’re not working with the natural dynamics of the system. You soon learn that if you push yourself back a bit, let go and start swinging in a small arc, you can make it larger by pumping your legs at just the right time: at the leading edge of the cycle. This is the principle of driving rhythm: sense and match the rhythm of the system you’re working with, and time your actions to drive it toward progress.

This may seem easy enough, but I watch so many highly driven leaders miss the rhythm of their markets or their organizations, and drive themselves and others to exhaustion. At the other extreme, I see so many visionary leaders who can sense the whole picture, but don’t see how to drive it: they can’t get from here to there.  If you’ve been a reader of The Zen Leader or this blog for some time, you know we comprise and can express a complete answer to these partial extremes through 4 energy patterns that make up our personality. From their names alone you get an idea of their functioning: Driver, Organizer, Collaborator, and Visionary. Our Visionary connectedness to the big picture is a good source of insight for what future is worth creating. Once we have that insight, our Driver provides the push and sense of urgency to start making it happen. Our Organizer can break down the whole journey into logical steps in a natural order that either we can do or delegate. And our Collaborator has the sense of rhythm to know when to make our moves, matching the people and larger forces around us. (For a deeper dive into the Integral aspects of these 4 energy patterns, see Integral Life, November 2012, With Thanks and Giving, Here’s an Integral View of You).

Driving rhythm.  As an example of how this shows up in leadership, think of a symphony conductor. One of my colleagues, conductor Roger Nierenberg, founder of the Music Paradigm, creates a dramatic demonstration of the role of the leader by having program participants sit in with a live symphony orchestra and experience the effects of different leadership styles from the conductor. The musicians play a Mozart symphony they all know well, and the first point Roger makes is that even without a conductor, they can play the symphony reasonably well. But as you listen, you notice it starts to slow down over time, that it lacks a certain pop and sizzle – just like an organization that lacks leadership even if it has talented people. The musicians can’t take much risk with the music, less they lose their colleagues, and the result is a least-common-denominator version of Mozart.

As Roger starts to conduct, he times the baton to just ahead of the beat – the leading edge – uniting the orchestra into a pulse that springs the music to life. The musicians can take more risk and the orchestra can turn on a dime when the rhythm changes. Now we hear the real-deal Mozart, played with the spark of driving rhythm. It sounds like a high performing team, a vibrant organization. To make a point, Roger will also go too far and over-drive the orchestra, modeling what micromanagement does to an organization. You see musicians starting to shrink back as Roger’s ego expands, their rhythm thrown off by his burning insistence. And now we hear a hammering, over-controlled version of Mozart that makes us want to stop listening.

It may be easier to find the driving rhythm for a piece of music or a swing set, than it is to pick out the dynamic rhythms of a team, a business cycle, or a market trend.  But all systems, large and small, have their natural rhythms, their resonant frequencies, their cycles within cycles at which they can operate. All people, large and small, have their natural rhythms. All change efforts, all product launches, all turnarounds, school years, campaigns, seasons, and days have their natural rhythms, and the more sensitive we are to them, the more we can time our leadership efforts to work in harmony with them, and at their leading edge. In this way we make the most progress with the least effort. We get stuff done Integral style, meaning we realize objective goals through subjective engagement with a driving rhythm that matches the individual and group, the parts and whole of the system we’re working with.

How do we get better at this – at sensing complex rhythms and knowing when to drive? Here are two approaches that I have found incredibly useful. The first is to get to know and use the 4 energy patterns within us. Between them, they perfectly cover the cycle of driving rhythm: the Collaborator moves in rhythm and has a felt a sense of when rhythms match and not (as in dancing to a beat). The Driver pushes, and has a feel for the leading edge of action (as in martial arts). It knows if it waits too long, it will not be the doer, but rather done-to. The Organizer figures out the steps – the project plan, the timetable, the agenda – and also listens for how its actions are received.  In wanting to do the right thing the right way, it carefully adjusts based on feedback. The Visionary keeps opening its senses to the bigger picture, scanning the horizon for new forces to leverage, new threats to mitigate, new possibilities waiting to happen. It will keep refreshing and informing our vision, that we apply our driving rhythm toward the greatest good. Each of these is indispensible to getting stuff done.

Driving rhythm calls us to use the right pattern at exactly the right time. This might be easy enough in theory, but in practice, the preferences of our personality often get in the way and make us forget that we have all 4 available in any moment. A reminder I’ve put on my own desk is a little paper cube – we call it the FEBox (named after the FEBI that measures these patterns in us) – with a different pattern on each side. When I’m not making the progress I want to be making, I’ll spin it around and remember what pattern is needed now. If you’d like one on your desk, you can download your own free FEBox – and here’s even a video on how to put it together.

The second approach to getting better at sensing and driving rhythm is to hone our visceral sensitivity using all of our senses – not just visual processing, which takes up a disproportionate amount of our brain. Listen to all the sounds around you in this moment – pause – and you’ll hear things that you ignored a moment ago while you concentrated on your reading. This is not a criticism, for the nervous system is always making choices for what to attend to. But it shows us how much we can dial up or dial down the gain on any of our senses by how we use them. The Visionary’s bigness and the Collaborator’s sense of rhythm are great ways to cultivate this visceral sensitivity. Here’s an exercise you can try that makes good use of both of them: step outside and feel your feet on the earth. Flex your knees ever-so-slightly, letting your weight come to the balls of the feet, so that you feel grounded. Hold your hands to the side of your head (as in “stick ‘em up”), seeing both hands at the same time in your peripheral view and all things in between.  Let your hands drift down, keeping this broad, 180-degree vision. Similarly, open all your senses, letting everything register in you and through you. Let yourself enjoy a few deep, slow breaths, and then start clapping your hands slowly. Gradually change the pace and feel for a frequency of clapping that is somehow easier to maintain – a pace that matches the rhythm of the day. The first time you try this, you may not sense much – maybe you didn’t even know the day had a rhythm. But if you keep listening, not just through your ears but with your heart and gut and every pore of your skin, you start to “hear” it. This is the kind of sensitivity that can sense the rhythm of people, the timing of effective communication, or the pace of embraceable change.

The beauty of driving rhythm for getting stuff done is that you don’t have to figure it all out ahead of time. You drive and listen, push on the system and see how it responds, sense if you’re building momentum or losing steam and adjust accordingly.  What it’s not is drive, drive, drive, drive, drive.  Neither is it sit back and hope. Driving rhythm combines the power to act with the sensitivity to act wisely. Using the 4 patterns and honing your visceral sensitivity to the rhythm of all things, you can get stuff done – Integral style. And in the largest sense, the boundary of self and other falls away, you become the whole picture and driving rhythm is none other than the beat of your own heart played on the drum of the world.

About the author: Dr. Ginny Whitelaw is a leadership expert and Zen master in the Chozen-ji line of Rinzai Zen. She is the author of The Zen Leader, President of Focus Leadership, and founder of the Institute for Zen Leadership.

I’m no expert in Chinese astrology, nor sold on its scientific merit.  But one of the people I’ve respected most in this life – Tanouye Roshi – found it a useful framework for understanding the year-to-year changes in the students he faced as a music teacher and Zen teacher, or large-scale shifts in the Zeitgeist. Somehow the shift from Snake to Horse particularly speaks to me now, as I feel the shedding of old skin, and a latent, pent up energy whose form is still unknown, getting ready to gallop forward.  Perhaps you feel it as well.  Or maybe if I describe its contours in my life, you’ll recognize it in yours and be ready to put the energy of this New Year to the best possible use.

If you look up the Year of the Snake, you’ll read about a quiet year of preparation, laying in plans, latent possibility: snake-in-the-grass sort of descriptions.  But if I look at my own life, its most snake-y quality has been shed, shed, shed.  Both of my parents and a lifelong friend died this past year. The hollowness of those losses is still with me, even as I recognize the new space it has created. Many wonderful things have also happened this year: continued growth in theInstitute for Zen Leadership (IZL), continued work with terrific colleagues who are as close as family, more people using FEBI, and more readiness in the culture – thanks to neuroscience – for whole, embodied leadership.   But I can also see in my own work this past year where many things have been on hold. Eighteen months and counting, we’re still awaiting IRS review of our 501c3 application for IZL’s non-profit status, the lack of which has cost us momentum.  FEBI is reaching more people, but it has hardly gone viral. Several leadership programs that were supposed to have launched in 2013 are still on the pad.

Enter the Year of Horse.  Technically, the Chinese astrologers would tell us it doesn’t begin until the end of January.  But energy doesn’t start and stop on the dime of a date, so much as shift organically and generally a month or two before we’re celebrating it. So, it’s happening right now. If you inquire into the nature of this coming year, you’ll read about spontaneity, sharp, dramatic moves, rags and riches, with good fortune going to those who can ride the wild Horse. And already I’m seeing signs of it in our business.  Anthony Attan, who will continue to work with our FEBI coach network on a part-time consulting basis, was recently – almost instantly –hired by Inovalon (a builder of data systems for healthcare) to be their internal business partner in leadership development and organization effectiveness.  We’re thrilled for Anthony, as this internal experience is essential for anyone in our business, and we know how lucky Inovalon is to get him. But what strikes me about it is just how fast it happened.

I also see this “pop” happening at the Spring Greene Dojo and IZL.  I keep getting notes from Gordon Greene Roshi, the head priest at Spring Greene, about all these great next-gen leaders-in-training at the dojo, their ideas-ready-to-launch, and how we can best support them through expansion of IZL, fellowship programs, or new ventures, any and all of which you may be hearing about in 2014. Next week marks our winter sesshin – a week of intense Zen training – and I hope to empty completely for the wild ride ahead because I already feel it, and I’m already too slow.

What I remind myself of and say to you as well is: pay attention, sense the rhythm, and go with it completely giving it your best. Renew and repeat. For the other thing you’d read about in the Year of the Horse or the year of any animal, is that it’s auspicious for one type of person and difficult for another.  The animal that is too slow will especially struggle with this year. And what makes us slow? Pointing the finger at myself it’s when I’m being stubborn in old ways, comfortable in old habits, or flat out of energy.  And what’s the antidote? Pay attention, sense the rhythm, and go with it completely giving it your best.  Renew and repeat.

In other words, become the Horse. Enjoy the ride!

Back in the 90’s, I joined a small company as a partner in the business. I was ladderone of three. Our most senior partner and President was a natural born leader. People gravitated and got behind him no matter how difficult the circumstances – and believe me, we lived through several! His nickname became “Mr. Smooth” and he was the consummate role model of a leader under pressure. My second partner, Mr. Steady, had been there his whole career, working his way up through the ranks with his eye on the prize. I was the newcomer with industry experience, who brought fresh thinking to the table. Together, we were a pretty unbeatable combination.

When Mr. Smooth decided it was time to start stepping back, Mr. Steady became the new president. Following in his footsteps would have been a challenge for any new leader, but for Mr. Steady the contrast was far too jarring. He never lived up to the role for any of the employees, nor even for himself. He left a short time later in a downsizing round of layoffs and that’s when I became the new President. I can’t think of a worse way to get handed this position.

The Peter Principle plays out in organizations all the time – highly effective people who get promoted until they are beyond their level of ability. I wish I would have said “no” to the offer of President. I knew it wasn’t the right position for me. I was a great number two. Task-oriented and driven, I could accomplish more in a normal work day than most people did in three. But I was lacking a very important attribute, maybe THE most important attribute, for someone at the helm – a clear future vision for the company. But the allure of the title was too enticing and there were no better options within our current staff, so I took the position… and it all slid downhill from there.

Looking back, our attempts at succession may not have killed our little company, as much as the changes going on within our industry, but it certainly helped speed things along. I didn’t want to build something – I had my own dream of semi-retirement and wanted to start stepping back myself. Instead of a leader with a vision for the future, the company was stuck in my own near-sightedness. Yes, we cranked up performance and eliminated a lot of debt. But we all knew we were on a sinking ship, like rats racing to a higher deck. What could have been possible with another leader – someone who could see a different future for the company, believe in it and pull others into that shared vision?

In the book, The Zen Leader, there is a very good exercise that illustrates how attracting the future is really developing a shared vision – one that begins with you and expands to your employees. We think of time as a line going from past to present and beyond. But when we change our perspective to Now, we see all that is possible through us in the present. “Leaders who can attract great visions into the present create a new shared reality among a great many people. In organizational life, this shows up as a change in culture,” states Ginny Whitelaw. If you’d like to try the timeline exercise on your own, you can get it here.

My take on this whole experience is this: execution without insight is pointless. “Attracting the future doesn’t mean we forever stop using the Driver’s push or the Organizer’s plan; both are indispensable for getting stuff done. But they are infinitely more useful when they serve the insight and vision arising from the connected state, rather than blundering along blindly on their own,” continues Ginny. Amen to that.

Our old company lawyer was a very smart man with his name on the door and a Vice President title. Even though he started the firm and added several associates over the years, he never once was its CEO. I asked him once why. “God, no,” he said, “I don’t want to be President!” There was a man who knew his strengths and built a thriving business never once taking over the reins. I thought it odd at the time, but I get it now.

Know who you are… know what your company needs… and don’t get lured into the easy choice. That’s my best advice from one who’s been there ?

Nobody really runs out of ideas, but sometimes it sure feels that way. Especially those times when you desperately want something miraculous to happen… a big increase in sales, a new client to boost your business, a big idea that suddenly changes everything. Nobody wants to feel like they’re tapped out. Here are some thought starters I’ve used over the years to help stimulate the creative process.

Read something
Pick up a book, a magazine or some other reading related to your issue. Nothing stimulates your thinking like seeing what has worked and not worked for others. When I was an art director in advertising, I began every major project by flipping through a few issues of Communication Arts. Just seeing brilliant work done by others gets the brain excited about the possibilities of the project at hand. It not only puts you in a mode that says “I want to do stuff like THAT!” but it gives your mind creative bits and pieces to begin to play with. I might see a special way that the type was handled, or a photo combined with a chunk of color that could give me a starting point for something I’d never tried before. Ideas spawn other ideas. Let the work of others ignite that spark of inspiration in you.

Involve someone
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Two heads are better than one,” but sometimes we feel like WE are the ones who have to solve something, prove something, or lead the way through messy waters. That’s ego talking, not what makes sense from a broader perspective. We all have distorting filters that color our perceptions in different ways. As Ginny Whitelaw states, in The Zen Leader, “Our layers of distorting filters based on our human limitations, culture, family, gender, age, strengths, weaknesses, experiences, fears, position in life, and on and on, create our perceptions and the meaning we make of ‘out there‘.” Get someone involved in helping you solve the problem. In fact, get several someones. You’ll find the benefit in collaboration and may uncover a solution you wouldn’t have come up with on your own.

Step back
If you’re like me, when you’re trying to fix something and it’s not working, you do what you think is the logical thing – push harder. This rarely ever works, yet we continue to drive, thinking more effort will do the trick, when what we really need to do is stop.

One of the flips in The Zen LeaderFrom Driving Results To Attracting The Future, speaks to this beautifully: “The flip to attracting the future is simply connectedness applied to sense what future is possible and how to bring it into the present. I say ‘simply’ because it’s not complicated, but it IS subtle. If we’re driving results full steam ahead, and not getting where we want to go, or not wanting what we’re getting, we have to slow down to even approach this state of connectedness in which acute sensitivity gives rise to insight. Better yet, stop.”

Take a break, step back, and stop what you are doing. The energy of the situation needs to realign itself and it can’t happen when you’re pushing. Driver energy is only one of the 4 energy patterns that you have available to use, and the situation is begging for something else. If you’d like a handy desktop reminder of the other energies besides the pushy Driver, you can download a free FEBox (named after the FEBI that measures these energy patterns).

The creative process IS a process, much like gardening. We need to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, feed/water, and sit back and wait. And when we can involve others in the process, like planting more than one seed at a time, a garden of ideas awaits us

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.

Change is hard. It never happens as easily or as quickly as you want it to, especially when you are the one leading the charge. You put all the systems in place… you keep everybody in the loop on your progress… you might even hear little signs of encouragement along the way that lead you to the false conclusion that this important initiative will be a piece of cake. Then it all goes to pot and you ask yourself, “What the heck happened?”

If this sounds all too familiar, I empathize. Welcome to my present world. But this time, I am not taking it personally. I’ve developed a certain level of awareness over the past few years that is not letting this situation get its hooks in me. Because its NOT about me. So often we forget this and let emotions rule our follow up actions.

The Zen Leader talks a lot about this “flip” in consciousness in Chapter 9, From Local Self to Whole Self. It’s a concept that can be difficult to understand, but when you make that flip, it’s easy to see that there are a lot more factors in play than you may have initially realized. Here’s the basic process:

WHO – Become aware of all the players
Become aware of the many people that are playing into the current situation. Make a mental note of each one, or even write them down. Who are all the immediate players in the situation? Who might be considered secondary players? I encourage you to expand your thinking to future people who may be impacted by this change.

WHAT – Consider the needs and fears
There is a reason, usually more than one, why people are resisting this change – and the reasons can vary widely by individual. Go back to your list of the players and do some role playing. What factor might be swaying them in another direction? What are they fearful of? What need is not being met by this change? This exercise allows you to “become the other person,” as Ginny Whitelaw states in The Zen Leader. It might benefit you to write these down as well.

Now, look over your list. Get a sense of the WHOLE picture, not just your own perspective on this change. “The whole-self answers son’t necessarily contradict those of the local self so much as add new dimensions, or broaden the approach. They may even reveal a better way to state the goal, or an overarching issue that has to be dealt with first,” continues Ginny.

This has been a valuable exercise for me, and I hope can add benefit to you, too. If you would like a more detailed look at this flip, along with some good real-life examples, I encourage you to download the guide: Implementing Change – Understanding All The Players.