Zen Buddhism and Mindful Leadership

Zen buddhism and mindful leadership

Zen is a practice of direct, unmediated awareness. It is not an intellectual exercise to develop a philosophy or theology. It is not belief in the contents of written works. It is not following a code of conduct. It is not an emotional catharsis. It is not performing good works.

Fundamentally Zen is being present here and now with what is here and now just as it is. It involves taking the energy of body and mind that we habitually use to create and maintain the “self” and focusing it on the present just as it is without interacting with what is going on. The key approach to achieving this focus is through Zen meditation. While reading about meditation and Zen may be helpful, reading and other activities are secondary to practice. In the practice we develop direct awareness, and we attempt with great calm and patience to bring this awareness to every moment of our life.

 Mindfulness practice, inherited from the zen buddhist tradition, is increasingly being employed in western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions. Scientific research into mindfulness generally falls under the umbrella of positive psychology. Research has been ongoing over the last twenty or thirty years, with a surge of interest over the last decade in particular. The establishment of buddhism predates the field of psychology by over two millennia; thus, any assessment of buddhism in terms of psychology is necessarily a modern invention.

The buddhists were, in a way, more advanced in the psychology of their ethics than aristotle — in a way, that is, which would now be called scientific. Buddha identifies four foundations for mindfulness, the body, feelings, mind states and mental objects. He further enumerates the following objects as bases for the meditative development of mindfulness.

He further described the body as breathing, postures, cemetery contemplations, and clear comprehending. Feelings could be pleasant neutral or unpleasant. Buddha described the two major paramount of the mental qualities generated by the meditation techniques which are insight and serenity. The insight enables the people to observe, explore and distinguish the objects of life. While the serenity also called as tranquility steadies, unifies, and compose concentrations to the mind.

Accept what nature offers, and work with it. Later, the effort becomes natural, effortless. And you are ever mindful. Sailing single-handed, especially, mindfulness is the rule of survival. Constantly aware of the slightest shift of the wind, a gathering of clouds on the horizon, a change of the texture of the sea. The feel of the rudder, the angle of the sails, the sound of the rigging, the motion of the boat, all become part of the whole that never wanders from your consciousness, it all works together, and if you lose this mindfulness, so mindfulness is in the practice. Present and aware.

 Buddha described the two major paramount of the mental qualities generated by the meditation techniques which are insight and serenity.

The insight enables the people to observe, explore and distinguish the objects of life. While the serenity also called as tranquility steadies, unifies, and compose concentrations to the mind.

 Mindful leadership for leaders

 Mindfulness is defined as ‘intentionally paying attention in the present moment and non-judgmental’. As leaders, it can also be thought of as the cultivation of leadership presence. Being present is quite a complex assignment in a world and global economy that measures time in internet seconds, conceives of the past as the most reliable tool for analyzing and assessing how to precede into the future, is increasingly interdependent and relational, and dedicates little or no time toward the development of presence in its leaders. But presence can be cultivated and is necessary for a leader to bring all of his/her mind’s capabilities to leadership.

 We can fuse western understanding about leadership with eastern wisdom about the mind to develop leaders who are self-aware and self-compassionate. People who are mindful—fully present and aware—can become more effective leaders.

 Leaders with low emotional intelligence often lack self-awareness and self-compassion, which can lead to a lack of self-regulation.  Authenticity is developed by becoming more self-aware and having compassion for oneself.  Group support provides nonjudgmental feedback in order to recognize blind spots, accept shortcomings, and gain confidence.

 Mindful leadership is a secular process to explore the roles of self-awareness and self-compassion in developing strong and effective leaders. Leaders who don’t develop self-awareness are subject to becoming seduced by external rewards, such as power, money, and recognition. They also have difficulty acknowledging mistakes, an achilles’ heel that has crippled a number of ceos who have appeared in the news recently.

We can explore  of how mindfulness can contribute to sustaining effective leadership. This of course is not a new idea. Self-awareness is central to daniel goleman’s emotional intelligence. It is relatively rare to find people who are fully self-aware.

Leaders with low emotional intelligence (EQ) often lack self-awareness and self-compassion, which can lead to a lack of self-regulation. This also makes it very difficult for them to feel compassion and empathy for others. Thus, they struggle to establish sustainable, authentic relationships.

 Leaders who do not take time for introspection and reflection may be vulnerable to being seduced by external rewards, such as power, money, and recognition. Or they may feel a need to appear so perfect to others that they cannot admit vulnerabilities and acknowledge mistakes. Some of the recent difficulties of Hewlett-packard, British Petroleum, CEOs of failed wall street firms, and dozens of leaders who failed in the post-Enron era are examples of this.

It  brings together Western understanding about leadership and Eastern wisdom about the mind, developed from practices that have been used for thousands of years, to contribute to the self-awareness and self-compassion of leaders.

Mindfulness is a state of being fully present, aware of oneself and other people, and sensitive to one’s reactions to stressful situations. Leaders who are mindful tend to be more effective in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them toward shared goals. Hence, they become more effective in leadership roles.

People become more mindful through prayer, introspective discussions, therapy, and the use of reflective techniques.

Mindfulness is a logical step in this process of gaining self-awareness that should be combined with experiences in leading through challenging situations and gaining awareness through feedback and group support.

 mentorship is a one-to-one process with someone who has greater experience and is willing to share from that experience. Group support as practiced in groups consists of a small number of peers (usually five to eight) willing to share themselves and their lives and support each other through both good and difficult times. A key element of these groups is learning to give and receive nonjudgmental feedback in order to recognize blind spots, accept shortcomings, and gain the confidence to address great challenges in their lives.

 any business school committed to developing leaders needs to offer courses and other experiential opportunities that enable students to develop greater awareness of themselves, their motivations, and their strengths and shortcomings. This process is most effective when real-world experiences can be reflected upon to deepen self-understanding in a supportive and trusting environment. This is the central tenet of the authentic leadership development.

An essential aspect of effective leaders is authenticity; that is, being genuine and true to one’s beliefs, values, and principles that make up their right direction in life.

Authenticity is developed by becoming more self-aware and having compassion for oneself, without which it is very difficult to feel genuine compassion for others. Self-awareness starts with understanding one’s life story and the impact of one’s crucibles, and reflecting on how these contribute to motivations and behaviors. As people come to accept the less-favored parts of themselves that they do not like or have rejected, as well as learning from failures and negative experiences, they gain compassion for themselves and authenticity in relating to the world around them.

We have learned that the greatest challenges come when the pressures and seductions are intense. That is when it is most crucial to be self-aware.

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