Leading into the Six Perfections – Zen Leadership
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leading into the six perfections

Ginny Whitelaw for Integral Post: November 11th, 2014

It’s wonderful to see Ken Wilber’s Fourth Turning of Buddhism emerge this summer, along with the conference and videos bringing it to life. Yes, it’s a good time to update what we know about the unknowable, if only to allow our conscious mind to catch up with the deeper intuition of our body. And, as Ken and others are pointing out, there is a great body of knowledge to add to our old wisdom. As I think about the world of leadership and the 4 personality patterns that inform it, I’d like to add another nugget to this grand conversation.

And that is: How to lead into the 6 Perfections of Buddhism to create better relationships, teams, enterprises and worlds around us. Bringing the 4 personality patterns — Driver, Organizer, Collaborator and Visionary — to the 6 Perfections gives us an inside-out way to genuinely enter into them, embody them, and enact them.

I’ve written about the 4 energy patterns and the FEBI that measures them elsewhere, but you might take a moment to enter each pattern and remember what this part of yourself feels like. Enter Driver by pushing — pushing your feet into the floor, pushing your hands together — and instantly you feel the intensity and single-point focus that characterizes this pattern. Sit up straight, feet flat on the floor, knees together, and place your hands in your lap; this posture-perfect placement brings you into the Organizer pattern, where there is a proper place for everything and doing the right thing is paramount. Begin to sway side to side, to and fro, rocking in your seat, and you feel the easy rhythm of the Collaborator. This rhythmic motion engages people as easily as a handshake, and plays with life like a child on a swingset. Finally, let your hands drift out to the sides of your head, seeing both hands in your peripheral vision, as well as the entire dome around you. Feel a sense of expansion through your spine, out the top of your head, through your arms, hands and fingertips, and follow this expansion into random movement — surprise yourself! This Visionary pattern follows no pre-fixed pattern and can therefore hangout in the flow of everything.

When we introduce these patterns to the 6 Perfections, we find each pattern enables a different perfection and, collectively, the perfections cultivate all 4 parts of our self. The 6 Perfections (and their Sanskrit origins, since some of the words do not translate perfectly) are:

  1. The perfection of Giving (Dana-paramita)
  2. The perfection of Discipline (Sila-paramita)
  3. The perfection of Patience (Ksanti-paramita)
  4. The perfection of Vigor (Virya-paramita)
  5. The perfection of Meditation (Dhayana-paramita)
  6. The perfection of Wisdom (Prajna-paramita)

Each of the first 4 perfections centers on — and therefore cultivates — a different energy pattern. The spirit of Giving is most easily entered through the Collaborator, with its human connection and sense of abundance. In a leadership sense, what we can give another starts with caring about them and their future, and extends to a sense of direction, or a vision we can create together. In Buddhism, the highest form of giving is to give fearlessness, akin to Edward Demming’s observation that if you want excellence in an organization you have to “drive out fear.”

The perfection of Discipline centers on the Organizer pattern with its checklists, processes and pervasive conscientiousness. In leadership, discipline turns great ideas into actionable steps and aligns people through process so their work can scale. Discipline gets stuff done. Teresa Amabile, in her research around what makes people have a good day at work, netted it down to two key factors: treat people decently (Giving) and make progress. Progress requires Discipline.

The perfection of Patience is most easily entered through the Visionary, with its sense of being in the flow and universal connectedness. The Visionary leader can see what needs to happen before other things are possible. Visionaries can sense unmet needs, unspoken words, and unseen truths. Visionary leaders find it easier to just be, letting things come to them, which allows them to build on larger forces in the Zeitgeist.

The perfection of Vigor lets the Driver in us come out at full force. Driver leaders keep a sense of urgency, an eye on the prize, and fire in the belly. They are an invigorating force in organizations, setting priorities, raising the bar, and holding people accountable. Without vigor, everything goes flat.

Considering just these first 4 perfections, one of them may be harder for you than others. Drivers may struggle with patience. Collaborators may reject discipline. Organizers may worry too much to be generous. And Visionaries may not infuse their ideas with enough vigor. Whichever pattern is strongest for you may highlight a weak perfection that could use strengthening. Conversely, if we know which patterns is weakest for us, the perfection it centers on is a good one to focus on. Accessing the energy pattern from inside out will make the perfection easier to practice.

The perfection of Meditation puts all 4 of these together: power and patience, holding form and connection to others. Indeed, one way to perfect the posture of meditation is to engage the 4 pattern centers all at once in the physical body, something you can explore in this exercise. As meditation deepens, so does the condition of Samadhi, or flow, in which “I” disappears. Insight arising from this state of connectedness is the perfection of Wisdom, as opposed to the thoughts arising from a separatist ego. And this connected wisdom in turn, perfects all the other perfections, and all that we enact as leaders.

Bring the patterns to the perfections, and we see how to practice them. Bring both to leadership, and we see how to perfect it.

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