If you master Zen you’ll be a great leader. But if you study Zen just to become a great leader you’ll never master it. – August Turak
The practice of Zen in both business and daily life is centered on the paradoxical acceptance above. As instinctually conflicting as it may seem, to truly be a great leader you must release yourself of your innate desire to lead. We no longer live in a world where the business model of leadership is intimidation, and seeing oneself as the all-controlling dictator will only lead to failing performances of your employees. Demands and thre
ats only create fear and sub-par work. If someone is only concerned about being ‘adequate’ enough to maintain their position, then they will never have those singular breakthroughs that occur when they are genuinely interested in the success of the business.
Now this doesn’t mean you have to brew up some green tea and roll out the yoga mats though. Zen leadership simply means that the success and well-being of the entire team has to come before your own personal needs. Experiential wisdom should be the driving force in your organization’s growth, rather than a focus on theoretical knowledge and pre-formulated business models. You need to be willing to grow, adapt, and expand right along with your staff. Here are the 10 Keys to Zen Leadership that will help reveal the potential Steve Jobs inside us all.
1) Lead by Example
– Make sure that you personally are living up to the same expectations you have in others. If you insist on punctuality and enthusiasm, then you too need to be on-time and excited in order for others to live up to your requests. No matter how loud you may talk, people will always be more apt to do as you do then as you say.
2) Communicate Clearly
– You want everybody on board to have the same vision of objectives and success that you do. If Bill Lumberg taught us anything in Office Space, it’s that silence will get you nowhere. On the flip-side, you also don’t want to over-complicate things with too much information. Be clear and as simple as possible. Honesty is essential, as you don’t want anyone to think you are trying to manipulate them in any way.
3) Encourage Constructive Argument
– Allow for open debate and questioning within your personnel. Not only does vocalized disagreement lead to potential problems being resolved before they happen, but it also alleviates any potential angst between co-workers. People should feel free and willing to discuss issues with one another.
4) Accept Input and Welcome Change
– It should be as easy as possible for persons to give you feedback – both personal and business related. You should have an open channel for any and all comments, and you can not have any fear in potentially revising your vision. The best idea you haven’t thought of may come from the most unexpected employee, and they should not be deterred in any way from expressing their concept. Always believe in the potentiality of someone coming up with a better or more-efficient plan.
5) Give Credit and Acknowledge Others
– Never let anyone doubt that they aren’t an essential member of the team. Acknowledging everyone’s addition to the project, no matter how menial the task, will only improve enthusiasm and work-output from all angles. Do this throughout the course of a project, not just at completion. If praise is lavished upon you, then redirect it to people for whom the credit is actually do. Show pride in your team, while remembering there is no shame in being overly humble.
6) Review and Adjust – Don’t Rank and Punish
– If a goal wasn’t met, then figure out what errors occurred and how they can be resolved. Punishing someone for mistakes will only make them fear thinking out of the box again. Finding the problem and making the necessary adjustments will not only prevent a repeat of the error, but will promote further expansion of new ideas.
7) Have a Clear Vision of Defeat
– Make sure to have a clear understanding of what the warning signs are for a potential disaster. Rather then deny any occurring down-slope, recognize any happening failures before they completely fall apart. Don’t be afraid to start again from the beginning.
8) Be Willing To Adapt
– Feel no necessary commitment to previous business models. Evolution is constant and more rapid than ever – feeling that you need to stick with only one game-plan will result in you losing out to newer and upgraded networks. If there’s an easier way to do something, don’t be afraid to embrace it. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Don’t make things more complex than they need to be.
9) Relinquish Power
– Your goal as a Zen leader is to enable your team to operate successfully without you. Levels of trust should be utilized for maximum output from your employees. You should feel secure in your people’s abilities, and be confident enough to delegate more responsibility once they are prepared. An appreciation for worker’s efforts will make them want to live up to the confidence you hold in them, and subsequently create a desire within them to do as much as they can for the team.
10) The Zen Leader is In All of Us
– Forget the notion of being a ‘natural born’ leader. The true Zen leader can arise from any and all of us. When leading through Zen, you are not controlling a group of people but rather uniting a group in a way that brings out the full potential of what their combined efforts may produce. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the Zen leader has the delicate vision to know how to correctly add them up. The humble desire for the overall success of the greater good is the first and most important step. Once these notions are realized, the beneficial ramifications, both business and personal, are vast and expansive.
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