This is an excerpt from The Simple Leader: Personal and Professional Leadership at the Nexus of Lean and Zen
There are numerous books describing how Zen can be applied to business, so I will just give you an overview and avoid the minutiae. Zen helps leaders grow by letting them understand their true nature, in the present. Zen helps organizations grow by enabling them to understand their true values and their present state. It helps integrate those into a long-term strategy with supporting activities that are continually adjusted based on events in the present.
One of the most important ways Zen does this is by encouraging simplicity. Our leadership lives are complex. In a 2010 study of over 1,500 chief executive officers by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, the number one challenge they faced was “the rapid escalation of complexity.” Over 80% predicted even more complexity in the future. Zen’s push for simplicity can free up leaders’ time and other resources and help them be more effective. In his oft- circulated treatise titled “Things Leaders Do,” GE CEO Jeff Immelt pushes leaders to “Simplify constantly—every leader needs to explain the top three things the organization is working on. If you can’t, then you’re not leading well.”
As organizations become more complex, conventional solutions to problems become less effective, so solutions must be out of the box. Zen teaches us to think in new ways, always considering unconventional ideas instead of dismissing them outright. Solutions created in this fashion are more likely to be competitive disruptors.
Zen brings us back to understanding the value of our people, the value of purpose, the importance of ethics. The human side of business is sometimes sacrificed to create future value, and the seductive power of an external extrinsic reward may become overpowering without some level of reflection and introspection that Zen provides. It grounds a leader in the present and reminds him or her what is really important.