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The Upper Right Hand Corner

Rebecca Ryan on how Zen Leaders Keep Their People from Freaking Out – August 2020

Since March 13, I’ve talked with hundreds of leaders about how they’re doing, and their responsibility to stay in the “upper right corner.”

The upper right hand corner is the place where people experience calm, centered attention because they have a sense of perspective and control (see image). It’s the opposite of the lower left hand corner, the “freaking out” corner where people feel no control and no perspective. If you want to see this corner in action, consider a two year old: they have feelings, but they don’t have enough language to describe their feelings and very little control to improve their situation. No wonder two year olds have meltdowns.

As leaders, our emotional pitch sets the tone for the organization.  If we’re “freaking out”, our people will freak out, too. If we’re calm and centered, our people can draft off that energy. This is important for many reasons, but as a futurist, this is the most important reason to me: people can’t imagine better futures when they’re freaking out. To imagine bold, ambitious futures, they need to be able to lift their eyes to the horizon, experience 180 degree vision, breathe into the earth, and feel themselves firmly grounded.

If that sounds like Zen leadership, that’s because it is. 

Below are some tips on how to give your teams a sense of perspective and control. But as Zen leaders, we know the biggest hack of all: a long exhale. Try it now. And the next time you have to lower the collective heart rate in a meeting, take one breath and exhale as slowly as physically possible. Then notice what happens.

Here are some other ideas to give your people a sense of perspective and control.

Perspective gives people a longer view and enables comparisons between the current situation and others. Leaders can remind mind people that:

  • We’ve been through hard things before; we will get through this.
  • Humans are amazing, resilient, and creative. When humankind has been on its back leg, it figures out a way forward. Our current difficulties may be devastating, but this period will also unlock new ways of doing things that we couldn’t have imagined before. A doctor told me yesterday, “We’ll never do medicine the same way. We’ve already learned that we can treat many of our patients without a trip to the clinic.”
  • We’re in this together. When people are afraid, they begin to feel separate. As Zen leaders, we know that separation is a delusion. Connection and interbeing is real. “Be the other, go from there,” is how Tanouye Roshi challenged leaders.

Giving people a sense of control helps them channel nervous energy into useful activity. Leaders can:

  • Give a large measure of grace to all of your staff, especially working parents who are once again doing double duty as at-home teachers. 
  • If your organization is facing layoffs or furloughs, ask them to figure out how to do it in a way that preserves people’s jobs. During the Great Recession, I saw many large companies agree that everyone would work 80% to save hundreds of jobs.
  • If your team is working remotely, be intentional about bringing them together for things that matter, and be creative in mixing it up – injecting humor or humanity. Use better icebreakers, invite people to join you for Zoom lunch (no work talk, just eating together), and invite children who enter the room to introduce themselves and join the meeting. (One dad who was tired of having his kids interrupt him made a new rule: “If you interrupt a meeting, you have to stay for the whole thing.” His 11-year old entered the room and had to sit on the couch for 45 minutes until the meeting ended. She told her siblings, “Don’t go in there. His meetings are boring!”)
  • Model kindness and compassion and encourage your people to do the same. What volunteer activity could your team do together? Doing something nice for others benefits both the sender and the receiver.

I believe in you. I believe in us. It’s game time for Zen leaders.



Author’s note: this newsletter is based on a post on my blog.


IZL Alumni Spotlight – Bob Caron Ignites the Way for Emerging Adults

Choices that define direction in your career and life often start before you have the life experience and wisdom to make such big decisions – but there we all were choosing a college and major and figuring it out along the way. Today’s emerging adults are placing six figure bets on their decisions being the right ones for them, and the results are in that it’s not working out for about half of them. Certified IZL Instructor and now President and Chief Flame Finder, Dr. Bob Caron, has just released an online, video-based coaching and educational program to help young and emerging adults discover clarity in their career and life direction – so they can make those big decisions from a place of accelerated development. Of course, the FEBI is integrated early into the program, which starts with a deepening sense of self-awareness, stretching to finding where these Voyagers, as he calls them, fit in the world, clarifying and declaring intentions around service to something they care about, and then acquiring the skills to pursue their direction. Check it out at


last call for september programs!
  • Are you a coach looking for a better way to help your clients make desired changes stick? 
  • Do you work in healthcare and could really use a Saturday morning recharge that reframes these wild times?
  • Are you a leader is Asia ready to elevate your leadership using best practices from East and West?

If you answered yes to any of these, one of our September programs is for you and it’s last call for registration. Do yourself a favor and change up this time enough to join us.  

It might be just the springboard you need.

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