Two people talking : The Zen Leader - From controlling to connecting

This article is excerpted from The Zen Leader: 10 Ways to Go From Barely Managing to Leading Fearlessly, by Dr. Ginny Whitelaw.

Lynn is a perfectionist, which she thinks is a good thing, but everyone who works for her sees it differently. “She gets stuck in the details,” says one of her people in a feedback report that I’m reviewing with Lynn. “It’s almost like she’s looking for the fault in everything you do,” says another. “She over-controls everything.”

“I don’t want to be that person!” Lynn protests. “But every time I let up, I get burned. They say they want me out of the details, but when I back out, no one else steps in.” Another example, I tell her, of how the world we create around us mirrors our own issues. From her own need to control she has created a world she needs to control. Perfect!

Now that you can work with the framework of the energy patterns, it’s not hard to see that high control needs and the need to get it right—two components of perfectionism—emerge from the Driver and Organizer patterns. Nor would you be surprised to learn that those two patterns dominate in Lynn’s FEBI results. In the body, these are the two patterns that create the most physical tension and make us feel most separate: apart from, not a part of. With that separation comes a largely subconscious fear that one has to protect or secure that separate, little being against whatever forces “out there” could threaten it. Let the “take charge” game begin!

Rather than misapply her Driver-Organizer strengths, Lynn sees that she could play a much stronger game by engaging her Collaborator and Visionary. In so doing, she’d be making a flip from controlling to connecting, as these patterns impart a sense of connectedness, be it in a relationship or group, (Collaborator), or the web of life or universe (Visionary). Lynn wants this connection, and starts using her fierce determination to haul herself to Aikido class several times a week, even though she’s afraid it could be a waste of time. In time, she learns how to connect with and lead others’ energy. She learns that over-controlling an Aikido technique destroys it. Perhaps what surprises her most is she’s having fun. Lynn is still Lynn, and her controlling ways are still a deep part of her personality. But now she knows how to flip into connecting mode. And her own experience tells her that she feels stronger, happier, and more capable when she does it.

Similarly, this chapter invites you into the flip from controlling to connecting, first as a physical sensation, and then as empathy and joy, which arise from the connected state and the play of the Zen leader in you. Although control may feel like a surer bet when it comes to getting things done, what becomes clear is that our controlling self drives results from too small a place, while keeping us locked into too small a sense of self.

Control as camouflage

Self-control. Quality control. Span of control. In so many ways, we regard control as desirable: that which makes us feel in charge, secure, or confident. To explore the flip from controlling to connecting is not to do away with control forever, any more than we could do without the Driver and Organizer aspects of our self. But for those of us who strive for control, and attempt to control our world, the flip to connecting is freedom, indeed. It opens up vast new territory for having a broader, more sustainable impact in the world.

Why? Because as we peel back what’s really behind our need to control we find a frightened ego. It may not appear frightened at first—so full of itself, seemingly confident and striving—but control is its camouflage to keep its game going. If I control my income, I can pay my bills and not have anxiety about going broke. If I control my temper, I can get through this meeting without angering people and jeopardizing my career. If I control the quality of my work, I can receive praise for it, or people will reward me. Control implies an “I” controlling, and that “I” is fundamentally about preserving itself. Not that self-preservation is wrong; it’s our most basic instinct. But the smaller our sense of self, the more vulnerable we feel, and the more our efforts to control come from too small a place.

Now, as we’ll see, our sense of “I” is always changing. As young children, our sense of self is no bigger than our self-in-our-skin. The centre of the universe, we make everything about us; we see our shadow, for example, and think the sun is following us. This stage of development, what psychologists call narcissism, is natural for children, but vestiges remain well into adulthood. The ego hates giving up its starring role.

As we get a bit older, somewhere in the range of six to nine years old, our minds develop the capacity for thinking more abstractly, and we start to sense how other people see and feel about things. This is the beginning of empathy, and, like the second child in a family, it has to find its place alongside its older sibling, narcissism, in our now larger sense of self. “I feel like I have a little elf on each shoulder,” as a friend once described this uneasy alliance, “One voice is saying, ‘share the cookie,’ and the other voice is saying, ‘eat it yourself.’” Both voices we identify as “I,” but one speaks from empathy, the other from narcissism.

This is but one example of how our sense of self naturally expands as we develop. In the flip from controlling to connecting, we invite this expansion on an ever-grander scale until it embraces the universe.

The illusion of control

Write your name. Really. Find a pen and a piece of paper, and write your name two different ways. On the first side, take control of the pen, grip it good and tight, and, making sure you don’t slip in any stray marks or slightly misshapen letters, write your name. Now, turn the paper over. Rock gently in your chair, and, holding the pen so lightly that it barely stays in your hand, write your name like a cloud.

Did you notice how small and tight you felt in your highly controlled name writing? And how a sense of bigness and openness came in when you turned the paper over and wrote “like a cloud?” If you were a handwriting expert analyzing the personality of the side-one writer, what words would come to mind? As you look at the name on side two, how would you describe that character? If you got into the spirit of this simple exercise, you found yourself flipping from Driver-Organizer to Collaborator-Visionary. Depending on your Home pattern, in making this flip, you were either leaving home or entering it, so you may find one of the sides closer to your natural handwriting. Regardless of which side you like better, it’s pretty clear that the name on side one is more reproducible and easier to read, and would net you a higher mark on penmanship from your 2nd-grade teacher. You’ve already proven to yourself how quickly and instantly you can flip from the controlling patterns (Driver, Organizer) to the patterns of connection (Collaborator, Visionary). In the radio analogy, it’s as simple as changing stations. What makes this flip difficult is relinquishing a way of being that has historically netted us lower risk, higher quality, and greater rewards.

So why bother with this flip at all? Maybe we don’t care about expanding our sense of self; we’re already having enough trouble navigating the speed, complexity, and sheer busyness of our day. But that pressure is exactly what’s pointing to the shortcomings of control. Because it shows us that we can’t keep playing the game the way we have been, and that we don’t control all that we think we do. Even when we can control a situation, we can’t control its consequences as they chain react into the future.

Consider for a moment the speed, complexity, and busyness of your day, as compared with, say, the days of your ancestors living around the year 1800. In 1800, it would take six weeks for a letter written in England to reach Massachusetts. Most people concerned themselves with growing, gathering, and preparing food. And in those simpler, slower days, people could prosper wherever the climate supported a fairly reliable link between planting and harvesting. Our forbearers might have felt a sense of control planting seed in the spring, with every reason to expect a harvest in the fall. Of course, not all plantings led to harvests, and nature has a way of reminding us how little we truly control. But the illusion of control lingers longer when less is going on. When things change slowly, our predictions are more reliable, and we get the sense that we can control outcomes (the harvest) by controlling what we do (planting). We might liken these early days to a slow, lazy river, with a smooth, predictable current; I can float a reed in the river at one point, and predict where it will be in a few moments. Perfect control.

But now look at today. In the time it’s taken you to read this sentence, more than 6 million messages have flowed from England to Massachusetts. More than 6 million people have picked up fast food at McDonald’s. If today were a river, it would be whitewater everywhere, tumbling and boiling among pebbles and rocks, constantly changing. I might be able to control how I place a reed in the water, but how can I say where it will be in even a few moments? Replace the reed with something you truly want to control—your children’s behaviour, making your numbers in the third quarter, having enough money for retirement, whatever—and you can appreciate how many tumbling forces stand between anything you do and any of these outcomes. Let’s say you’ve done everything possible to make your third-quarter numbers: you’ve planned, you’ve segmented the market, you’ve shown your people how to focus on the best customers, you’ve done it all. And then a competitor’s product gets a favourable buzz on Twitter. Then a virus infects the manufacturing plant of your Chinese supplier; they’re forced to delay shipments, creating stock-outs in the Midwest, and half of your salespeople have nothing to sell.

Yikes! Are you going to give up? Not if you’re the Driver-Organizer achievement machine that today’s fast companies reward you to be. You’re not going to take setback sitting down. Why, you’re going to make war on those third-quarter numbers! Controlling-you takes charge, and forces your own buzz onto Twitter (Follow me!), puts a contingency plan in place with three new suppliers (two of which you’ll drop in a month), relentlessly pushes on decision-makers in your company to redistribute stock from Canada, and works your people 12 to 14 hours a day. And, after all that, you can proudly announce at the next quarterly review that you’ve taken all these extraordinary steps to close the gap to your third-quarter numbers. Your ego is so vindicated. But if we were also to follow any of the chain reactions kicked off by your war, we’d find an endless stream of unintended consequences, from bad publicity to broken relationships to burnt-out people. If you can feel a tightening in yourself even as you read this way of working, that’s no coincidence either. Forced control makes us tense and tight. Although it may seem as though we’re winning the battle, in fact, we’ve created the war. We may think it’s coming from “out there” and all those market conditions and competing warriors. But the moment we’re in it, it’s our war, fed by “in here”—whatever our ego is afraid of.

Does that mean when the going gets tough the tough give up? If we’re not going to make our third-quarter numbers, or whatever it is we’re trying to control, do we just say, “too bad?” Do nothing? Giving up is no more an option in business today than not planting in response to a bad harvest would have been for our ancestors. As always, a greater truth is found in paradox. We have to recognize that our usual way of controlling is not, and cannot be as complete in our world today as it was in simpler, slower times. We have to find a different way to function, something bigger than narcissistic control. And that comes through connecting.

The connection of empathy

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 your own mind chatter stops; to listen with every pore in your body until you 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 you, your 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.

Once we become the other, we can sense what’s in her interests, and influence becomes a matter of showing how our idea connects with those interests. That doesn’t mean she will always agree with us or do what we want, but it does mean that our thoughts and actions are now coming from a larger place: one that accords both our interests and hers. Extending this empathetic approach, person by person, group by group, through your world, you can see where your actions start to be informed by an ever larger context. Consequently, your ideas, actions, and direction will start to resonate within that larger context. You can start making big things happen, not by controlling, but by connecting; not by making war on them, but by becoming the people whose interests are served by those big things.

In a pattern sense, we can make this flip by starting in a quiet, listening, Organizer place, and then relax completely. We invite a kind of permeability into the boundary of our self-in-our-skin and sense another’s rhythm. We can listen for their breathing, their pulse, sense their entire being all at once, and we enter the Collaborator’s empathetic engagement. If the talkative Collaborator is Home for you, your challenge might be to access the quiet listening of the Organizer as a starting place. If you normally live at the Driver’s speed, you may find it hard to slow down enough to sense depth, rather than racing over the surface. If you normally live with the Visionary’s expansiveness, you may need enough centredness to connect without losing yourself. Whatever your challenge, you now know how to access the energy pattern that can support you in building a practice of connecting with empathy.

Become the other, and it opens up a world of understanding, in which communication becomes naturally influential, and influence becomes just another authentic dialogue. We’ll return to this matter of influence when we look at applying the flip from controlling to connecting. But first, let’s look at how big connecting can get.

Become one with everything

The flip into connecting can embrace not only people, but all kinds of things and ideas as well. Become one with the keyboard you’re typing on and your fingers naturally find the right keys. Become one with a vision to bring books and literacy to the world, as John Wood did in Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, and you find a world of donors and supporters. Becoming “one with” is such a common expression of a Zen-like state, it’s become trite, even a punchline (as in, What did the Zen master say to the hotdog vendor? “Make me one with everything.”). Because it’s so common, we may think that we know what it means and miss it altogether. Indeed, if we think we know what it means we are missing it altogether. For this oneness is not a state of knowing at all, but a condition of not-knowing, non-thought, and non-self-action that we attempt to describe as the boundless expression of the Zen leader.

This sense of connectedness with everything is a flip into the Visionary’s bigness, which may start with the intention of “I” making the flip, but evolves into simply being the whole picture, where no “I” stands apart. In becoming one with Now, we might sense the causes and conditions that have poured into Now from the past. We might sense the context and consequences that will create the future. We might sense how two seemingly unconnected ideas connect. This insight will come, not with effort, not with order, but in a flash, before thought has time to think. Just as our left hand doesn’t have to seek our right in order to clap with it—they are, after all, part of one system—as we merge with the moment we don’t have to seek anything for wisdom to arise. What we sense and what sense we make of it will depend on our condition and how completely we make this flip. But it surely increases with practice. And the only time to start is Now.

The Zen Leader Flip 6: Controlling to connecting

This flip calls on us to relinquish a sense of self-in-our-skin control, and trust that a larger sense of self and greater capability will emerge by connecting. It is difficult because it feels like a little death for the ego, and our ego will always put up resistance to changes in the game as it knows it. Yet you’ll find, if you haven’t already, that the ego is remarkably adaptive to a larger sense of self, like a snail shedding one shell to grow another. You can trust that eventually, the ego will take pride in this growth—even take credit for it. Sneaky ego.

The energy patterns provide a convenient framework for making this flip, because they help us flip into different modes in which we can play our nervous system. As we’ve seen, this flip takes us from the Driver and Organizer patterns that concern themselves with I-centred control (being in charge, self-control) to the Collaborator and Visionary patterns that connect with people and possibilities.

This is a more difficult and real flip for those of you who normally live in the Driver and Organizer patterns, and this chapter is particularly dedicated to you. But even if you claim the Collaborator or Visionary as Home, that doesn’t mean you’ve been spared the need to control. We all pass through stages of development where we attempt to control our world. But if Collaborator and Visionary are your strongest patterns, you might find this is less of a flip and more of an application of existing strengths. For you, the challenge may be having enough grounding to be fully present when connecting, and you may want to focus on centering and meditation practices (such as the ones at the end of Chapters 2 and 4).

In making this flip, I’ve paired the patterns in a particular way— Organizer flipping to Collaborator, Driver flipping to Visionary— because these pairings represent physiological opposites, and more easily “undo” one another. But the flip into more Collaborator or Visionary energy can start in any pattern, including your Home.

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The Zen Leader Flip 6

Controlling to Connecting

  • Less Organizer, more Collaborator
  • Less Driver, more Visionary
  • Less is more

Less Organizer, more Collaborator. We enter this flip from the Organizer’s consummate self-control. For a moment, sit up straight, place your knees together, feet flat on the floor, and hold this book at eye level, as if you were singing in a choir. Feel the held stillness of this posture, and just listen to the sounds around you. You may notice that it’s easier to listen when you’re holding a sense of quietude on the inside. This ability to listen is an essential starting condition for making this flip. Continuing to listen—pausing as you read words on this page—gradually lessen the Organizer as you relax your body, and let go of “holding” stillness in place. Particularly relax your shoulders, soften your ribcage, relax your heart, let out a sigh of relief. From the very bones you’re sitting on, feel a gentle, rocking rhythm start to come into your body. Don’t try to force it; simply invite it, and let Collaborator energy engage more of your body, until your torso is rocking, and your relaxed neck is letting the rocking come right up through the top of your head. This flip into the Collaborator’s easy rhythm, without losing the Organizer’s keen listening, is perfect physiological support for connecting with other people.

That doesn’t mean we literally rock our way through every conversation with others, so much as apply this sense of “listening rhythm” to sense the rhythm of others. If we listen for it, we’ll easily sense the rhythm of their speaking and gestures, which relates to their rhythm of thought. We’ll sense if this is the right time for a difficult conversation, or if their emotional state is too volatile. We’ll sense the patterns they’re functioning in and whether this is a conversation that needs to get to the point quickly (Driver) or explore possibilities (Visionary). If we try too hard or think about it, we’ll be falling back into controlling ways, and our efforts will be unsuccessful and exhausting. But if we play with it, make a game of it, and get insatiably curious about sensing the rhythm and minds of the people we’re with, we’ll find we can build this sense as surely as we can build an eye for good art or a taste for good food.

What we’re building is empathy. You may not be able to practice with anyone in this moment, but you might pick a few people in your life with whom empathy is particularly important and practice with them as occasions arise. Playing with this practice, you might notice a quiet joy arises when you’re party to this human connection. That’s no coincidence, for joy accompanies the shedding of separateness, and any time we feel more connected, we move closer to the truth.

Less Driver, more Visionary. The second stage of this flip comes as we shed our need to control outcomes, and connect with a broader sense of possibility. To get a feel for this stage, start with something (or someone) you’ve been trying to control that’s not going so well. It could be the work of a direct report (or family member) you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to turn around, or a thorny issue that you can’t quite put to rest. Think of some person or situation you’ve been pushing on, trying to get him, her, or it to go your way. For a moment, set your jaw, bore your eyes into this page with the Driver’s determination and get to the point: What do you want to make happen here? As rapidly as possible, jot down a few words that capture the outcome you’re driving toward.

Now, sit back, relax, let out a sigh of relief, and let go, opening your hands, palms to the ceiling. Take in the two questions that follow, and then let your eyes drift up to the ceiling, as these questions drift through your open mind for a few moments.

  • What are the larger forces at work that you could work with?
  • What wants to happen here?

Regardless of what insight or answers come to mind, notice how the condition of your body and mind has changed: more relaxed and bigger, less tight and separate. As you regard some of the larger forces at work with your person or situation, which of these could you merge with? Not as separate from yourself, but as a natural extension, in the same way as great sailors become the wind to get where they’re trying to go. As you regard what wants to happen, how would it change you—and how might you change to accord it?

Less is more. When becoming other people, merging with larger forces, our actions naturally become informed by a larger sense of self, in which “I” embraces a bigger picture. Less self-in-the-skin effort is more enduring in the world “outside” our skin. Less I-centred trying is more supported by natural law. Less is more.

We can experience this flip when we do less ourselves and reach out to others more. When leaders have delegated away many of their everyday tasks in order to attend the programs I teach, I always caution them about how much they take back when they return on Monday morning. Who can help? Who can learn from this? Where else in the organization could we get support? The more we can connect with people and ideas around us, the more we scale beyond the capacity of being merely a “one-man-band.” Not only does connection help leadership scale to greater levels, but it’s even essential for the uptake of our individual efforts.

“I have so many great ideas and tools, but nobody at this company wants to hear about them,” laments a consulting firm manager in one of our coaching sessions. I ask him why he doesn’t develop those ideas and tools with the people who could use them. Why not get them involved early on, let them test early versions? He admits that he prefers working alone because he gets to control the entire project “without interference.” The flipside of “without interference,” I tell him, is “without buy-in.” Who needs to give input to this? Who can help? Asking ourselves questions like these can flip us out of control mode into connect mode where we remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and usefulness is in the experience of the user.

We can experience this flip when we do less, period. Slow down from 40 furious activities per day to a few big things done well. Slow down from speaking five words per second to three words per second. Slow down from breathing 10 times per minute to three times per minute. All of these are frequencies in our body, mind, and life, and when we do less, we drop into a lower frequency that can be more settled, impactful, and enduring. We could even go all out and stop for 20 minutes in meditation. Slowing down our life by this much is like slowing down the blades of a fan until we can see, not just a whir, but through the blades of the fan itself. Doing less, we sense more.

We can experience this flip when we own less. Owning is another form of control, and many people seek to control their lives by owning a great deal. This shows up in organizational life as managers wanting to “own” people (and not, heaven forbid, have to work through pure influence). This shows up in everyday life as wanting to own stuff (as in, “the person who dies with most toys wins”). But the truth is: That which we own also owns us. If we own three houses, three cars, or have three direct reports, every one of these defines something about how we then live our life. Owning less opens the opportunity to connect more. For example, instead of “owning” a small group of people in the organization, I might connect across the organization and lead projects through far broader influence.

I recall as a young child being asked—no, told—by my parents to clean the basement. It was a mess, and they had every right to insist that I clean it up. But I didn’t feel like doing it. I was angry, resistant, and just hated all this stuff I had to clean up. So I put all my toys in a couple of large cardboard boxes and dragged them up the stairs, through the living room, past the watchful warnings of my parents (“You’ll regret this”; “If you throw those out, we’re not replacing them”), straight out to the curb to be collected as garbage. I came back to the basement and felt positively free! Space all over. And even though I couldn’t articulate it then, somehow I felt more space to grow into—not like a kid with a bunch of toys I’d outgrown. Less past, more possibility.

We can experience this flip when we know less. “I know” is possibly the most self-limiting phrase in any language, for it stops our mind on an “I” that is certain of a conventional delusion. Seriously, that’s all we can be sure of. Not because we’re stupid, but because we’re working with limited sensors, vaguely grasping a three-dimensional projection of an at-least-10-dimensional universe, through the biases of personality, culture, and so on, selecting what we notice and how we make meaning. In conventional matters, such as knowing the rules of the road or where we keep our toothbrush, conventional knowing works just fine, and we’d exhaust ourselves if we constantly questioned it. But in assumptions we make about the world, our customers, the future, the people closest to us, or the possibilities for innovation, we can get huge mileage out of knowing less and learning more. Suspend knowing. Hang out in not-knowing, and dissolve into boundless possibility: connected, as if in solution, before “I” has a chance to distill out and make a claim to “know.”

To know less is to be more. To have less is to be more. To do less is to be more. When we cease to control from the self-we-think-we-are, we flip to connecting more to the self-we-truly-are. How can we sense when we’ve made this flip? Joy invariably arises.

Putting it to work: Connecting for influence

As big and boundless as this flip can be, it is also the most practical flip a leader could make. For it is the flip that gets people moving with us, not because they have to, but because our connectedness brings them along. Moreover, how we move with connectedness is naturally modified to accord a larger picture. Influence is a two-way street, a give and take, a mutual learning. If I think influence is about getting another person to accept or act upon my idea, and that I will come away unchanged, I’ve mistaken it for control. The less “I” in influence, the more likely influence will occur. Influence has nothing to do with the strength of my argument, my data, eloquence, how loud or long I talk, how right I am, or how many big and powerful people I have behind me. Influence is not about me-in-my-skin at all. It is about the person I want to influence perceiving that my idea is in his or her interests. That’s it. And as we’ve said, the surest way to do that is to become the other person and go from there, a practice you now have a chance to apply.

To get started, think of a person you want to influence on an important matter. It could be a person involved in the situation you started thinking about earlier that’s not going so well. It could be a manager or coworker whose support you need on a project. It could be a family member whose life may go off the rails if she doesn’t change her ways. Pick a particular person and write down his or her name (for simplicity, I’ll use a universal “she” in what follows). These steps won’t guarantee you’ll get exactly the results you desire, but almost certainly you’ll get at least one new angle on how to approach this person.3

1. Deeply understand your own needs and interests. What do you want from this person and why? Be clear about your own needs and interests in this situation. Try to dig beneath your surface position, to why you really want this, and what it will really do for you. In digging beneath your surface position, you may start to see some needs that are not so important, or alternative ways to get some needs met. Whether any insights come to you at this point or not, write down as much as you can unearth about what you want from the other person and why. When you’re done, set this aside.

2. Become the other person. Sit back; relax. From the very bones you’re sitting on, invite a subtle rocking rhythm. Imagine yourself becoming the person you would influence: see through her eyes, hear with her ears, think with her mind, and look back at yourself and the whole situation as that person regards it. How does she feel about you and your proposition? How do you make her feel about herself? What else does she care about? Feeling into what it’s like to step into her shoes, write down as much as you can about how her world looks at this time, and how your proposition fits into her world.

3.    Finally, consider each energy pattern as you become the other person, and sense the extent to which she operates with:

  • The Driver’s sense of urgency, love of numbers, and need to win.
  • The Organizer’s sense of order, rationality, and the need to do the right thing.
  • The Collaborator’s concern for people, love of stories, and the need to play with ideas.
  • The Visionary’s big thinking, sense of possibility, and need for purpose.

Identify which one or two of these matches her best.

4. Go from there. Starting with what you now know about your person’s interests, look back at what you want from her and ask, How is this truly in her interests? You may see several possible connections. Additionally, you may surface other ways to get your needs met, other ways this person could help you, or other things you might do for her in exchange for her help. Even the relationship with you may be something she truly values. The stronger your connection with her, the more likely she is to help you for the sake of the relationship alone. Conversely, the stronger your connection, the more likely anything you’re trying to get her to do really is in her interests.

Once you can see how your idea—or something you can trade—is in the other person’s interests, the only remaining piece for influence to work is to show it in a way that is compelling and overcomes her resistance. The energy patterns are again a source of insight into how to show effectively:

  • For a Driver, don’t waste her time; get to your point with numbers, and show how your idea is a win for her.
  • For an Organizer, give her time to think, perhaps relevant information to read; show how your idea is the right thing to do.
  • For a Collaborator, let her play with your idea and make it her own. Let her talk it through, and be ready for some give and take. Show how this will strengthen your relationship or be good for people.
  • For a Visionary, expect to wander around a bit and let her connect your idea to grand ideas of her own. Go where it goes; help her imagine the future with your idea in it, or how it is an elegant or essential solution.

So what’s the best way to show that your idea is in her interests? Write down a couple of ideas for how, having become the other person, you can go from there.

Sitting here reading a book, you can’t be certain of the outcome. But almost certainly, you will have reached the goal of having at least one new angle on how to approach your person. It might also change your whole attitude of approach, and the confidence and caring you express.

This is exactly my experience with Jim Loehr. It’s 2007, and I’ve just finished writing Move to Greatness with Betsy Wetzig. My publisher has asked me to contact the most famous people I know to ask them to write an endorsement, which I look forward to about as much as I do a root canal. But Jim is someone whose work I’ve long admired. He’s authored and co-authored many books, including The Power of Full Engagement, which became wildly popular, and put forward the importance of managing energy. Yes, Jim’s endorsement would mean a great deal to me. Although I sort of connect to Jim though my network, he and I have never actually met. As I pick up the phone, I’m thinking, Here I am, calling a person who’s never met me, and asking him to endorse a book he’s never read. This is about as cold as a call gets! I put the phone down.

And I do this exercise. I think through what I really want and why. Yes, the endorsement, but it also becomes clear to me that our work really does connect around the theme of energy, and there are ways our combined work could help people. And then I become Jim. Not having met him, I’m working only from his writing, but I can tell he’s a Driver (his tagline, “Accomplish the mission!” was a hint). Don’t beat around the bush with Jim, I decide; put it out there and show how this can be a win for him.

Which gets me thinking, How could this be a win for Jim? Well, because his last book was so popular, I imagine his business is really taking off, and perhaps things are bit discombobulated around the office; I could offer to do a teambuilding session with his people. I could also show how my work helps his work, and how the patterns help people manage their energy. After only few minutes in Jim-mode, I’m actually looking forward to this call.

A different me picks up the phone—not so weak or empty-handed. And the Jim who answers the phone is sharp, vibrant, and wonderful. He appreciates the potential connection of our work and my offer to do a session with his team. “Perhaps sometime in the future,” he says. “Of course, send the manuscript. I’ll read it over.” On reading it over, of course he sees where it adds to his work and he writes a wonderful endorsement. I haven’t done the session for his team yet (the offer still stands, Jim), but in so many ways, I find myself promoting his work, recommending his book to clients, and singing his praises (I think I just did it again). So his endorsement truly did turn out to be in his interests as well.

This is what I continually find with connecting and influence: things never turn out exactly as I expect, but they always turn out. The outcomes of connection—grounded in context, reality, and the real needs of others—are bound to be more connected and enduring than the solo efforts of a separate “I.”

That said, let’s also remember that the flip to connecting doesn’t mean we can, for ever after, do without the Driver and Organizer’s sense of control. Driver and Organizer still have their place, and no leader, team, or business could function well without them. The beauty of truly understanding connecting mode is that we can—at last!—give control its rightful place, and not misapply it. Want to find an innovative solution to an intractable problem? Don’t start in Driver mode; you’ll race right past a solution without recognizing it. Flip into Visionary mode, become the whole picture, the whole problem, and sense what’s possible. Once you sense a solution, now is the time to apply your Driver’s sense of urgency to make it happen. Maybe then you want to flip back into the Collaborator’s connecting mode, engage others in this solution, and let them make it their own. Now bring in enough of the Organizer’s process and planning to keep everyone’s efforts aligned. And so on, endlessly, like inhale and exhale, now after now, naturally operating with a sustainable rhythm.

The more completely we make the flip from controlling to connecting, the deeper we “breathe” in this rhythm. Moreover, flipping from control to connect extends the sense of self toward its true boundlessness. When we first approach this flip, connecting is but another act of the ego. “I” flip from less Organizer to more Collaborator. “I” flip from less Driver to more Visionary. That’s completely natural, but eventually, we lose the sense of “I connect” to simply connect. This is where “I understand you” shifts to true empathy; where “I am dealing with this change” becomes simply according the myriad changes. This is where “I” disappears—not permanently; it will be back—but for this moment, dissolving us into a state of complete connectedness called Samadhi.

Despite the foreign-sounding word, this is not a foreign concept— only an old one—available to you here and now and every time you flip into complete connectedness. If you’d like to invite or deepen your access to this Samadhi condition, the breathing series at the end of this chapter is an especially useful practice. The everyday practice of becoming one with people we would influence or problems we would solve also invites and deepens this Samadhi connectedness. Good thing, too, for we need this connectedness for every flip that follows. Starting with attracting the future.

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The Zen Leader Flip 6

Takeaways : Controlling to Connecting

Connecting happens through more Collaborator (less Organizer), more Visionary (less Driver).

Less is more. If you do, know, or have a great deal: do less, know less, and have less, to connect more.

Influence works through connection:

  • Deeply understand your own needs and inter- ests: Go beneath the surface to unearth what you really want and why.
  • Become the other. See through her eyes, think with her mind; sense its patterns. Consider what is truly in her interests.
  • Go from there. Show how your idea is in her interests, either directly or through an exchange you offer.


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The Zen Leader core practice: Invitation to Samadhi

Samadhi is a state of complete connectedness, in which thought is suspended, as no “I” stands apart to think. This connectedness is not an exotic condition, but a natural state that arises when we’re absorbed into our setting. For example, in a thrilling baseball game when the pitch is thrown, the bat is swung, a moment of collective Samadhi arises in the absorbed tracking of the ball. Or at the end of a momentous symphony, in a brilliant performance that has captured the audience, the quiet of Samadhi rides on the end of the closing note before thunderous applause erupts.

As these examples illustrate, Samadhi arises on its own. It cannot be willfully entered, because that which would “will” it is none other than the stand-apart “I.” That said, the body and breath can be developed in ways that become conducive to this condition arising. And the exercises themselves are relaxing and rejuvenating. Without trying to make anything happen, invite your body and breath into the exercises that follow. Let the quiet of Samadhi come to you.

First, establish the centre

1.    Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at sides (Figure 6.1a). Beginning a long, slow inhale through your nose, let your arms drift straight up in front of you (Figure 6.1b). When they’re parallel to the floor, moving ever so slowly, open the arms 180 degrees, letting your vision expand at the same time (Figure 6.1c). Continue to inhale, and lift your arms overhead, palms to the sky. Stretch slightly towards the sky at the end of your inhale, slightly lifting your heels, shifting your weight toward the balls of the feet (Figure 6.1d).

2.    Set (meaning set down your heels), maintaining a slight pressure from the balls of your feet into the earth, and feel a connection to the base of your hara. Exhaling slowly through your mouth, make the sound of “aaay” (long a?) as if from the hara itself. Through the base of both palms, extend outward, turning the wrists back 90 degrees, and slowly arc your arms back to centre (Figure 6.1e). At the end of your exhale, relax completely and begin again. Repeat for five to 10 breath cycles.

Figure 6.1

Figure 6.1 - The Zen Leader

Second, release what’s holding

1.    Stand with feet in a wide, but comfortable horse stance. Inhaling through your nose, and hunkering down slightly, gather your forearms together in the middle of your chest, as if to metaphorically gather any worry, concern, or thought of any kind (Figure 6.2a).

2.    Exhaling through your mouth, make the sound of “ahhh” as you straighten your legs, open your arms, and release any and all holding. Let the sound of “ahhh” resonate through your entire being, with nothing held back or bound. As your arms open, let your eyes also drift to 180 degrees, and “see” with your ears. At the end of your exhale, pause for a moment to hang in this open-ended Now. (Figure 6.2b). Draw in your arms and inhale for the next cycle; repeat for five to 10 breath cycles.

Figure 6.2

Figure 6.2 - The Zen Leader

Third, hear/feel your entire body all at once

1.    Stand with feet in a wide, but comfortable  horse stance, shoulders relaxed, eyes taking in 180 degrees of your surroundings. Lightly press your palms together at your hara, fingers pointing downward (Figure 6.3a). Breathe in and out quietly through your nose. As you begin each exhale, slightly extend the balls of your feet into the earth, and maintain this extension through a long, slow exhale. Relax on the inhale, and let it happen on its own. Repeat several breath cycles.

2. Continue breathing the same way as above. Leaving your left hand where it is, rotate your right elbow so that your right hand points upward, thumb side touching your chest. As you feel the contact of your hand, release any tension in your chest, so that the touch can be “felt” all the way to your spine (Figure 6.3b). Repeat several breath cycles in this posture.

3.    Continue breathing the same way as above. Leaving your left hand where it is, extend your right hand just over your head, pointing upward, near the back of your skull, where your spine would extend if you had a few more vertebrae (Figure 6.3c). As you exhale, feel both the groundedness of hara under your left hand and the extension of your spinal energy through your right hand. Repeat several breath cycles in this posture, opening your senses and feeling/hearing everything within you and around you.

4.    Continue breathing the same way as above. Leaving your left hand on the hara, rotate it so that the palm faces up. Draw your right hand back down to chest level, fingers pointing upward, as in the second posture (Figure 6.3d). Again, as you make contact with the chest, empty any tension that has accumulated, feeling the contact all the way to your spine. Repeat several breath cycles in this posture, feeling/hearing your entire body all at once.

5.    Continue breathing the same way as above. Leaving your left hand on the hara, palm up, rotate your right elbow so that your right hand, also palm up, comes to rest on your left. Fold in the thumb of your left hand and gently cup it in the right; this is the same hand position as for sitting meditation (Figure 6.3e). Repeat several breath cycles in this posture, feeling/hearing your entire body, your entire world, all at once.


Figure 6.3

Figure 6.3 - The Zen Leader

Dr. Ginny Whitelaw has led, coached, and taught in countless programs for Global1000 leaders, in part through her affiliation with Oliver Wyman Leadership Development, and as adjunct faculty to Columbia University’s Senior Executive Program. She is the co-author of Move to Greatness (with Betsy Wetzig, 2008), and continues to teach Zen applications to leadership, in which the ideas of The Zen Leader have met with such enthusiasm, they needed to be written down.

Article excerpted with permission from The Zen Leader: 10 Ways to Go From Barely Managing to Leading Fearlessly, copyright Career Press.

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