Rather than give up or give in, how to break free from self-inflicted limits and “flip to the next stage”
Two months before Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death was published in 1974, he died of cancer at age 49. The core concept in his book is that no one can deny physical death. Only the suicide can control when. However, there is another form of death than can be denied: That which occurs when we become wholly preoccupied with fulfilling others’ expectations of us.
I thought of that as I read Ginny Whitelaw’s Introduction to The Zen Leader in which she urges her reader — under intense and severe pressure by others to perform “leaner, smarter, faster, cheaper” — not give up or give in. Use the pressure rather than be used by it to “propel breakthrough development and leaps to new consciousness, to “give way” to a “radical” reframing and inversion — a “flip that takes many forms.” For example, transitions such as these: from coping with constant pressure from outside-in to “diving right in and transforming situations from inside-out”; from exhausting oneself and others from the relentless drive for results to “attracting the future and people who help create it; and from being one’s personality to [begin italics] seeing [end italics] one’s personality “and applying the right kind of energy to any situation.”
Whitelaw provides ten “Zen Leader Flip” mini-tutorials to help her reader to “break free and flip to the next stage” of personal development. More specifically, to complete transitions from…
1. Coping to Transforming (Pages 32-35)
2. Tension to Extension (47-51)
3. Or to And (72-75)
4. “Out here” to “In Here” (91-97)
5. Playing to Your Strengths to Strengthening Your Play (125-129)
6. Controlling to Connecting (141-146)
7. From Driving Results to Attracting the Future (171-179)
8. “It’s All About Me” to “I’m All About It”
9. Local Self to Whole Self (228-232)
10. Delusion to Awakening (250-253)
Following each of the ten “Zen Leader Flip” min-tutorials, Whitelaw thoughtfully provides a “Takeaways” section listing key points and five tips for converting problems to opportunities. This material will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of essentials later.
Make no mistake about how immensely complicated and deeply profound this process is. That is why Whitelaw provides a wealth of information, insights, and wisdom that, she fervently hopes, will help leaders and those aspiring to leaders to complete a transformation from “barely managing” to “leading fearlessly.” Here are a few of the dozens of passages that caught my eye:
o The challenges of transformation (Pages 29-32)
o Why tension produces movement — until it doesn’t (41-43)
o The Zen Leader/Core Practices: “Centering Mini-Break” (54-55), “Sitting Meditation” (101-102), “Invitation to Samadhi” (153-157), and “All Patterns at Once” (183-184)
o Why “healthy tension” is the point (65-68)
o “A World of Our Making” (81-84)
o “The Illusion of Control” (136-138)
o “It’s Always About Fear” (242-243)
No brief commentary such as this one could possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of material that Ginny Whitelaw provides in abundance. It remains for each reader to read the book with care and consideration. Also, it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to apply immediately everything learned while reading the book. Rather, “give way” to whatever touches the heart as well as stimulates the mind. Meanwhile, keep in mind that development of Zen leadership is an on-going process rather than a specific destination. Finally, when considering or now embarked on that journey of personal development, keep in mind Oscar Wilde’s suggestion: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Here is a brief excerpt from an especially thought-provoking and informative article written by Ginny Whitelaw and featured online by Fast Company magazine. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
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This blog is written by a member of our expert blogging community and expresses that expert’s views alone.
Anything we’re trying to make happen as a leader involves other people, and the fact is, most people don’t have to follow us. They don’t have to believe in our great ideas, buy our great products, or do what we want them to do. Even when we have authority–as parents of teenagers will tell you–our power doesn’t go very far without others believing that what we want them to do is in their best interests. The pull of connecting to others and their interests is far more powerful than the push of control, especially when we find the intersection between their interests and our goals. How do we know what’s truly in someone else’s interests?
“Become the other person and go from there.” It’s the best piece of coaching advice I ever received, coming from Tanouye Roshi, and it applies equally to influence, negotiation, conflict, sales, teaching, and communication of all kinds. To become the other person is to listen so deeply that our own mind chatter stops; to listen with every pore on our body until we can sense how the other’s mind works. To become the other person is to feel into her emotional state, see through her eyes, think like she thinks, and see how she views us, our proposition, and the situation at hand. To write it out or read it in serial fashion makes it sound like a lengthy, time-consuming process, but in fact, deep empathy conveys its insights in a flash, and our ability to empathize deepens with practice, as we learn to quiet our own inner state.
[Whitelaw then explains specifically how and why "becoming the other person" is essential to effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of any organization, whatever its size and nature may be.]
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Dr. Ginny Whitelaw is the co-founder of Focus Leadership, LLC, focusing on the development of the whole leader. A biophysicist by training, she combines a rich scientific background with senior leadership experience, and 30 years of training in Zen and martial arts. For many years she has been an executive coach, faculty member and program director with Oliver Wyman’s Delta Executive Learning Center. She has also served as adjunct faculty to Columbia University’s senior executive program. A seasoned program manager in telecommunications and aerospace, she has more than 20 years of experience leading multifunctional teams and complex change efforts.
Dr. Whitelaw spent 10 of those years at NASA, where she became the Deputy Manager for integration of the International Space Station Program. She led a large-scale change effort to re-align the management of the Space Station program. Her work using cross-functional teams became a model for other NASA programs, and she was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal for her efforts. She also has small and non-profit organization leadership experience, having founded and run 4 companies, including two major training centers for Zen and Aikido. A Rinzai Zen priest, she holds a 5th degree black belt in Aikido, and teaches Zen meditation alongside her work as a management educator and executive coach.
Dr. Whitelaw is the author of BodyLearning and (with Betsy Wetzig) Move to Greatness: The 4 Essential Energies of the Whole and Balanced Leader. Together with Mark Kiefaber, she has developed the FEBI® (Focus Energy Balance Indicator), a powerful assessment identifying one’s preferences for four energy patterns linking mind and body. She holds a Ph.D. in Biophysics from the University of Chicago, as well as a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in Philosophy from Michigan State University.
Her latest book is The Zen Leader: 10 Ways to Go From Barely Managing to Leading Fearlessly.