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!

Guest blog post by James Blachly.

Editor’s note: James Blachly joined a Zen Leader program in February, 2013 and, inspired by that, came to the much more vigorous form of Zen training known as sesshin. Here he recounts learnings from both experiences. For more information on the Zen Leader program, visit www.institutezenleadership.org/programs)

In German class the day before we left for IZL, we were asked to describe our heimat (homeland/birthplace) and our idea himmel (paradise), and I said that the latter would be a place with true silence and great natural beauty. I was being rather pointed with this comment, because the class was rowdy and because I wanted to subtly alert my young Deutschprechlich aspirants to my awareness of the situation, and my desire to change it. Halfway through that first weekend at the Dojo, I realized I had somehow stumbled upon this very heaven.

During Sesshin some months later, there was no conflict about the convergence of having my most desperate night only hours before saying that I was happier than I had ever been in my life. There was no contradiction in the fact that I slept less than I ever have in my life over a week, and also had the best and most focused energy, that I took part and became a part of the most rigorous ritual and formal structure I had ever seen, and also felt the freest I had ever been.

I first encountered Zen during a winter weekend in February shortly after having had foot surgery. I drove a rental car with a special left-foot pedal, and picked up Rebecca, my wife, in Madison. Rebecca was the reason we were headed there; she had trained in Hawaii several times, and wanted us to train together for this IZL weekend. We drove through a strong blizzard, arriving slightly late, and got stuck in a snowbank on our way to the Dojo. A neighbor pulled us out with his tractor, and we were carried up the circular drive by Greene Roshi on his ATV with my booted foot hanging off the side and crutches clutched in my hand.

I had never before sat Zazen, and did not know what I was doing there, except that it was important to my wife that I come.

As I reflect on both that weekend and on Sesshin, which we did together in June, I think that my lack of knowing what I was doing there was actually a great asset. I spend my life with a lot of purpose behind my actions. Not knowing why I came made it easier to let go of any attachment I might have had to a particular outcome.

The experience of Sesshin was much larger than I can put into words, and it eclipsed the IZL weekend in the depth of training. That said, I still marvel at how 3 days in the winter in Wisconsin could so fully change and focus thirty-odd years of learning and thinking, and become such an important part of not only my daily life, but my inner dialogue and sense of self.

Those few days transformed my sense of leadership, and ended up guiding my large organizational initiatives for the next many months. But rather than try to summarize these weeks of training, or glean the larger lessons learned, I thought I’d write about three experiences in particular.

At IZL, I remember hiking, with particular flourish, up the snow-filled path to the most beautiful meadow that may exist in all of creation and sounding out our kiai across the fields. I had hiked up in my medical boot and crutches, which seemed to impress the group, and Scott, the jiki for the weekend, pulled me behind him on the way down in a sled. Allowing myself to be helped, not trying to prove something needlessly was a good lesson that day.

At Sesshin, I was stretched to the breaking point. It is difficult to write about one’s experience while sitting, because it either sounds like a war story or an old football glory story. It becomes about something other than the actual experience, and more about how someone else will hear it, or perhaps be impressed by it. It is removed from the context of Zazen, of training, of focus and the many-layered hours of sitting that precede such an experience.

Along those lines, the stripping away of ego was fairly far advanced by the time either of these things happened. It is also hard to reflect on pain, because once it’s gone, it really does vanish. There are parts of my body that went through a complete transformation during that week. I sit differently now. I am able to sit some form of half-lotus–and that happened only because Ginny one day spoke to me about my posture and the cushions, and step by step had me shift my legs until by some miracle one leg rested on the other. I still can’t get over that feeling. What was truly impossible, I thought, had just happened. But it was preceded by the worst pain of my life (I think this is fair to say), when Scott the Jiki came over and adjusted my back. Before that, I had found a posture that was relatively pain-free: it involved a kind of hunched-over posture with my shoulders curved and down, but it let me get through the sittings. When he shifted my back and I tried to keep that going, I found that all the previous ten sittings came right back at once, and tears flowed down my face in pain.

After Ginny’s correction, though, this strange thing happened. I was in such a state of desperation that I had no choice but to find my breath. I remember this experience of finally releasing a muscle by my coccyx bone, and in some connection I found that that muscle was the same thing-not an embodiment or metaphor, but it actually WAS my ego. I let it go, I let the breath come from down below everything, and I found that the pain went into the background. In the foreground was this solid liquid river of breath, and it flowed straight up my spine. When I found that river of painlessness, it didn’t matter what else was happening. I was aware of it, not in denial, and experienced it, but the pain didn’t own me.

The other experience was the night before. Honda Roshi played Shakuhachi for us, and I remember feeling completely trapped by the sound, unable to escape it, controlled by every note, and also completely absorbed in my own pain. All I thought about was my hips, my legs, my back, my neck, and that every fabric of the music encircled me, and would not end. It was slower than usual, and also somehow violent. When he left, Honda Roshi said, ‘Change this kiai.” He could feel that the energy of the room was poisonous, and he tried to break it up in some way with his playing.

The next day, he asked me two questions. One was “do you conduct better when your feet are rooted in the earth.” Yes, I answered (I am an orchestral conductor). Second, he said, “did you hear the voices of the forest last night?” I asked him to explain. He repeated the question. I remembered the pain, and the music, and the energy. No, I said, I had not.

As a conductor, my job is to hear. To hear everything, to be attuned to every player, every sound. To hear the music internally before it is produced, to remember everything that happens in order to rehearse it. To envision sound and then enable it being created in performance. I have spent my lifetime developing my listening skills, and it was devastating to realize that I had focused so intensely that I had left out visionary hearing altogether.

That night, as he played, I listened beyond his music to the forest outside. There were trees rustling in the wind, birds calling, animals moving somewhere in the forest. And I started to feel the energy outside of myself. In the room, with other people. That night’s Teisho was about compassion. We should consider ourselves lucky, Greene Roshi said, if we knew one person who was truly compassionate. What a statement! That night as I heard the forest, I thought myself around the room and wondered at what each person in the dojo was going through. What kind of pain, what kind of inner thought process, what kind of history and hopes and what had brought them here, and what had they been through. Somewhere in the middle of that sitting I began to cry, big streams of tears falling down my face, and realized how important it is to wipe tears away, because the fluid mixed with sunscreen and bug dope, and it all caused my eyes to keep watering, long after I had stopped crying. I had to keep my eyes closed for twenty minutes or so until the tears were fully dried.

At some point during those twenty minutes, I got over myself a little bit. I got over the feeling that my pain was somehow unique or worse than anyone else’s, and also that it was in any way more important to my understanding of myself than other things. It was not. Pain is just pain. It’s bad, it’s not as bad, it’s been worse, it could be worse, it will be worse, it feels better now. There’s information in it, quite often. But some of the information is just like a baby crying. Loud, compelling, speaks right to your heart. But there are no words for it. You can’t only feel compassion, you can’t only feel bad. You realize that there is some information in there. And you listen beyond it.

I’m not sure I’m a better person for beginning to study Zen. And I often wonder what it does for me, or why I want to sit nearly every day. Will it help me with my work? I wonder. Will it solve my problems? How can I measure this, I wonder. Then I remember that I didn’t know why I came to IZL, and I didn’t know why I came to Sesshin, and that that seemed to help. I don’t need to know the answer to everything.

I do know that it’s been important at key junctures. Before a big conducting audition with a professional orchestra, with ten minutes in my dressing room, breath and posture were there for me. Before a big concert, before going on stage. After a crazy day. First thing in the morning, when I didn’t know what I’d be facing at work, but knew it would be crazy. A long sit on a Sunday morning. Laughing when the cats pushed pause on the timer without me knowing it.

At this point in my life, I’ve grown weary of claims that my life would be transformed, changed, improved. Ginny said that she was told by Tanouye Roshi that sitting 20 minutes a day would change her life. I wonder whether I would have had the same experience if I had come in with the expectation of having my life changed.

I know that one weekend at IZL has done more for my leadership and sensory awareness than I could have imagined. And I realized recently that all the planning we had done during that weekend in February had taken place, down to the dollar amount I had planned to raise for a concert in July, and the relationships that I wanted to strengthen and the actions I wanted to take. We embodied them enough that I didn’t have to consult my notebook. I just brought them into the world.

This is all to say, Thank you, Ginny. And warmest greetings to all of the beautiful, strong people we trained with in February and in June.

James is an orchestral conductor and the founder of the Sheep Island Ensemble, which brings audiences and excellent performers together in a celebration of music and often intertwined with social gatherings. www.sheepislandensemble.com

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

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?