Partner Feature – 8 Ways To Be A More Conscious Leader
If you want to bring mindfulness to the workplace, you have to be mindful yourself.
by Susan Griffin-Black, CEO of EO Products
I was drawn to Zen Buddhism like a good pair of black boots. Zen practice has great form and function and it’s challenging, mysterious, magical, and practical. The rituals are ancient and reflect the exotic beauty of Japanese culture. And everyone wears black – my favorite color.
A friend gave me a copy of “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” in 1984 and that marked the first steps on the path of what became a now 34-year practice. Reb Anderson (Senior Dharma Teacher and Suzuki Roshi’s dharma heir) accepted me as a student in 1998. I studied Zen Stories (Koans) for eight years, went to Green Gulch Dragon Temple on most Sundays, and attended meditation retreats (including seven-day silent retreats where we start at 4:50 a.m. and end at 9 p.m.). I feel steeped in the teachings and community, and am continuously surprised and grateful for the benefits of this practice, and how it has shaped and influenced my thoughts, actions, and perspective.
The beauty of Zen is that it’s both simple and complex at every turn. There is nothing simpler, yet harder to grasp – which is the point. Grasping leads to suffering. And suffering manifests in the idea that we have separate selves which are disconnected from other separate selves.
The truth is, we are all in this together, and what I do and you do and everyone does matters because it affects us all. We are interconnected. The products my company makes are directly affected by the weather conditions and political climate in Egypt – where we source rose geranium. The individuals we hire can make or break production rates. The success of our company is dependent on the choices of people I may never meet.
Interconnectedness shapes how we do business. We choose ingredients that are safe for our workers as well as the people that use the end products. We will never test our products or ingredients on animals. Once we understand that we are all a part of this same system, it becomes clear that we must act in ways that create a better life for all.
If people want to have a spiritual practice and they have a job, there is no choice but to consider how to make that job into their practice. There is no other way. My work and my practice and my life inform each other. One of the great things about Zen and Buddhism is that there are many handy lists. I keep a couple around that serve as ongoing reminders to show up with compassion and kindness, even when I feel beaten down by commerce.
The eightfold path is a list available to all beings that Buddha offered as a way to lessen suffering. His message was a suggestion to check it out, and decide for yourself. It begins with right view (how to meet the moment with clarity) and progresses into right resolve, and the eight steps serve as practical guidelines that help me stay grounded and know what is important. For me, it informs the circular path of conscious leadership.
Right Understanding: Meeting what is
Right understanding is the first practice on the eightfold path. Right Understanding is also called Right View. When we meet the world as it is instead of what we want it to be, a fresh view is possible. We have the capacity to listen, to respond, and experience what is happening right now.
Right Thought: thoughts are seeds
Thoughts are seeds. What we think matters, our thoughts help form our inner narrative which shapes our perception. What we think grows into our reality. This my reminder to plant seeds that foster that which has heart and meaning.
Right Speech: is it true, is it helpful, is this the right time? Know when to pause.
Is it helpful, is it true, is it the right time to have this conversation? So many conversations in my past were driven by my need to find answers or about being right. This is my reminder to take a pause when I’m upset so I do not create more upset. Then, I regroup and ask myself if I am listening from a more neutral place and if what I’m about to say and how I am about to say it is true, helpful, and timely.
Right Action: Do the right thing
Doing the right thing is automatic when we are catching our little one before they fall. We want someone we love to be safe. What if that is the basis of right action? Knowing what we do is in the highest good for the safety and wellbeing of ourselves and others. It’s an impossible aspiration. And yet, a compelling reminder to examine my intentions before taking action – which includes my body, speech, and mind.
Right Livelihood: Work is love made visible
When what we do becomes a manifestation of our passion and commitment, there is a felt sense of energy and momentum. Work becomes love made visible because this human life is one of connectedness, compassion, and love. How we do and what we do are the same and different.
Right Effort: 10,000 hours
Practice is not mysterious, it is the result of devotion. It’s the last thing I want to do and I do it anyway. My own pain and suffering have been lessened by practicing Zen Buddhism. For me, each step has been met with great resistance. I choose to do it and it becomes easier because the results have proven to be helpful in living this precious and difficult human life.
Right Mindfulness: Be here, now
The past is done, the future is not yet here. What we have is now. When we are present and calm in the here and now, we develop our innate capacity to be compassionate and helpful – to ourselves and others.
Right Concentration: Being upright
Not leaning in or leaning away, we realize composure. We are not our thoughts, our body, our feelings, or our senses. The great thing about meditation is we have the chance to witness the screen of our life and see what is there with a tiny bit more space, levity and possibly less attachment.
I have an endless collection of black boots and Zen Koans. Their practical magic inspires me to continue on this path of lifelong curiosity. This is the way that allows me to be human with other humans in this unsettling and mysterious life. Zen Buddhism and black boots may not be your way, and that’s ok too. “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” – Rumi