connected leadership for a connected age

September 2016

Brown and crinkled leaves begin to collect on my patio, the vanguard of the leaf-onslaught to come. Did summer already shoot by? Not for the first time, I’m struck by the seeming compression of time. Yet having read The Seventh Sense this summer – Joshua Cooper Ramo’s excellent treatise on this Age of Connection – I’m comforted that this sense is more than old age speaking, that the interwoven networks of our age indeed are collapsing time. And space. And changing all that they connect. Three things we can say about complex, connected systems: they present unpredictable opportunities, unpredictable dangers and are, well, unpredictable.

I think back to graduate school, when I was studying how the nervous system wires itself up during development. One nerve cell is not all that smart. It has the potential for connection, and the ability to send out an electro-chemical signal. But it cannot do calculus, write poetry, or construct a business plan. But wire 80-odd billion neurons together – give or take a few – and those feats become possible, plus countless others.

And now I feel like I’m watching a similar development on this planet: new properties are emerging as we wire together knowledge from the past, first with millions, then hundreds of millions, and now 4-going-on-7 billion people, plus the Big Data from everything they’re doing on every connected device they use. At click-speed we can find out where a meeting or protest is taking place, the latest polling numbers, whether Ad A gets more clickthroughs than Ad B, the tiniest value gap we can exploit in a market, the birthplace of Clark Gable, or the number of nerve cells thinking about all this stuff.

Just as our own minds can be phenomenally clever AND fraught with conflict, it’s not all sweetness and light when we wire together this world. Yes, there are tremendous opportunities in connection and digitalization. But we’re also seeing increasing job dislocation, vicious hacking and cyber warfare, abuses of power and privacy, polarized politics, proliferating terrorism, and anger and fear in the land. Difficult as these conditions already are, they seem like the early-falling brown and crinkled leaves on my patio – a harbinger of things to come.

Ramo joins a chorus of voices from writers on digitalization, to strategy consulting firms to the head the World Economic Forum in calling for a new kind of leadership for these times. Specifically, we need leaders who are more agile, courageous, and “get” connection. To “get” connection is to move beyond trying to control the unpredictable, to being able to function as part of the flow of conditions – like a “ball on fast-moving waters.” To paraphrase Ramo, it is to master the energy of the age and use it appropriately. It is nothing more and nothing less than Zen leadership. Through the physicality of Zen training, we’re primed to experience our intrinsic connectedness (i.e., Samadhi) and function from the wisdom that arises from this connected state. Being the whole picture, we can skillfully use its parts, bringing desired futures into the present, vision into reality, and energy into things that matter. If leadership is defined, as my colleague Kevin Cashman would say, as authentic self-expression that creates value, we could define Zen leadership as authentic expression of the connected Self that creates wondrous value.

Reading Ramo, in one sense lights a fire under me. It moves me from thinking Zen leadership is important to thinking it’s mission-critical – as in the only kind of leadership that will prove to be up to the challenge of these times. In another sense, I find it enormously reassuring. It reminds me that Zen leadership isn’t my own hair-brained idea or something I have to make happen, but rather that I, too, am riding the great waves of these times. If my energy for bringing this work through me seems at fever pitch, well, that’s just more evidence pointing to its readiness to happen. What Ramo makes clear is that if you’re not connected in an Age of Connection, you’ll get deluged by those who are. So I guess we all face the question of what breadth of connectedness we want to live from, work from, and lead from. Me, I choose the whole universe.   -GW

Want to explore the connectedness of Zen leadership for yourself? Here are a few upcoming training opportunities at the Institute for Zen Leadership:

FEBI and Zen Leadership in Vietnam

Certainly one of the highlights of my summer was spending a high-energy (and high temperature!) part of it launching Vietnamese FEBI and furthering Zen Leader programs in HoChiMinh City and Hanoi. Thanks to the great efforts of Sridevi to Hai, Son Dang and their team of translators, and our partners at Performance Programs, more than 60 Vietnamese managers got to understand their energy patterns in their own language. Not to mention the “aha” of experiencing those patterns in their own bodies.

Deep thanks to Sridevi, Tran Nguyen, Linh To Hai and their whole team who also orchestrated a series of sessions where hundreds of entrepreneurs, yoga instructors and meditators learned more about Zen and Zen leadership. I won’t soon forget the softness of courtyard grass under my feet or the roll of sound from front to back as yoga teachers were learning how they could use their voice and rhythm to keep our large group moving as one.  –GW

Curious about these energy patterns or getting certified in the FEBI to coach and teach with them? We’ve combined our self-paced eLearning modules with live coaching and supervision from a master FEBI coach to bring you a portable yet personal way to make this improtant tool your own. Find out more.

If you’re a coach, you still have a chance to register for the Capital Coaches Conference in Washington DC, Sept 30-Oct 1. If you’re attending, join Anthony Attan on Friday, Sept 30th from 1:30-3pm in the Glen Echo Room for his talk on “Transformation Through Movement” and coaching with FEBI. There are still open seats, so register now!

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