Is there a connection between quality leadership and Zen? Yes, but not in a way you might have imagined. I was recently visiting with a friend of mine who practices Zen. If you’re not familiar with Zen, it’s defined by the online Free Dictionary by Farlex as “. . . enlightenment that can be attained through meditation, self-contemplation, and intuition.” During our conversation, my friend was attempting to use a cloud-based software program when she said to me in a somewhat passionate voice, “I’m going to vent for a moment. I hate this software program!”
Not being a practitioner of Zen myself, I replied, “I’ve never seen you like this before. You’re always so calm and even-tempered. I thought you practiced Zen.”
She answered, “Yes, I do. However, Zen teaches you to engage with life as life presents itself.”
Ahh! Here’s the connection between quality leadership and Zen. Good leaders don’t rename challenging situations in order to make them sound better. Instead, they engage with them. If you don’t like what’s happening, then say so. If it’s going to be a difficult assignment, then tell your team members that the job is going to be difficult.
A good friend of mine calls this being “present in the moment,” which is a conscious awareness of what’s happening inside and outside of you at any given moment of the day. I call it “transparent engagement”, i.e. being engaged with what’s happening to you at the moment and being honest and transparent with others about your thoughts or feelings. It’s a valuable leadership trait, even if you don’t practice Zen.