By Elazar Aslan
“That was a terrible meeting,” my client said in exasperation. “Honestly, I think they had their mind made up and nothing I did really mattered. Apparently they’ve had conversations about my project that did not even include me. There’s no way I can win…I really can’t take it anymore. I need to find a way out of here.”
As an executive coach, this is not an uncommon starting point for a conversation. Every day I try to guide my clients to use the challenges of the workplace to strengthen their capacity to go inwards and find a skillful response. Using clarity and self-awareness, we all can grow to avoid the negative consequences of a reactive mind. My clients learn early in our relationship that true leadership is borne from the radical leadership of self.
To be clear, this was not my understanding of leadership as I studied at Wharton or trained at big corporations, nor frankly was it my view at the firm I later founded. In those days, I too would put on my battle gear to take on those who stood between me and my desired outcome. Although my search for a more contemplative way of learning was already in high gear, it would be some time before I truly understood that leadership is really an inside job.
I sat at my first meditation class just a few years after I sat at my last MBA class, feeling like I was embarking on a completely divergent path. Delivering smart bottom line answers by day and asking deeper questions informed by internal yearnings by night. As my direct experience with the contemplative path bore fruit, my desire to share its sweet taste only grew, leading to several early attempts to make the two paths converge.
Although my career grew at a respectable pace, it was my quest to find a way to succeed without the undo stress, dysfunctional group dynamics, work-life imbalance, and the undercurrent of anxiety and discontent that seem to be the GPS of business-as-usual. After decades locating the self-awareness of senior leadership as the key determinant of a business’ health, I shifted from consulting with corporations to coaching executives on how to deepen their personal growth and offer their best—naturally. Although the contemplative path informed my work, it still did not fully infuse it.
At the same time, the rise of the digital age intensified the fallout of a toxic business culture on steroids. The proliferation of young CEOs with exceptional technical ability but lacking the maturity to manage their emotions dramatically increased aggressive behavior in the workplace. The greater need for agility created even greater tension within the corporate culture of resistance to change. The information overload across all time zones in an increasingly interconnected world created chronic stress beyond what our bodies could bear, setting our inner critic on overdrive.
Not surprisingly, it was this turbo-charged global economy that helped my coaching and contemplative paths converge for me. It became clear to me that the only way out of the unsustainable intensity of business today was through the doorway of contemplative presence and awareness. The unexcelled leader in our age is nothing less than an awakenIng being in action.
My client’s follow-up meeting went quite well. She brought her focus inward and identified how her own fear-based triggers led to a view of “me against them.” She also connected to her compassion for the confusion and insecurity we all share as humans. The CEO did not flip his position but my client was able to re-establish her seat at the table and re-energize her commitment to have a positive impact on others.
Most of us are not sufficiently trained in inner work like this, even though it predictably leads to a positive outcome. This is why I am so excited that after a ten-year collaboration with Joe, we are able to address the stress and suffering that is endemic in the workplace and awaken the Boundless Leader in each of us. This is not a theoretical presentation of possibilities, but a methodical step-by-step transformation informed by the current realities of business. Having witnessed its impact on clients I am looking forward to the empowered community of kindred beings that will emerge.
Editor’s note: Elazar Aslan is Nalanda Institute’s Director of Mindful Business and Leadership. Elazar along with Nalanda Institute’s Founder and Director, Joe Loizzo, have teamed up to create and teach Boundless Leadership, a six-month course merging science, transformation and leadership. The course begins January 2020. Find out more and register today!