We’ll be exploring the parallels between the stages of reaching higher levels of leadership and the Zen Ten Ox-Herding Pictures. In the Zen tradition this series of ten pictures depicts the stages of developing consciousness or reaching enlightenment.
Leadership and The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures
Evolving into a higher level of leadership requires your evolving into a higher state of consciousness.
The Zen Ox herding images, where the ox represents consciousness, can give us a visual image of this journey.
As a young child our level of awareness saw ourself as the center of the universe, but as we were growing up, we became more aware of our relationships with other people. We became more conscious of what to do and not do, who to be and not be in order to be accepted and fit in. That basic social consciousness is as far as some people have any interest in evolving.
Seeking the Ox
For some of us though, there is the sense that there is more. Perhaps it was a moment in nature, or a time on the playing field when we slipped into an altered state of flow and a sense of greater awareness. We became more conscious of our connection with our environment and with others around us.
That unique experience sparked our curiosity (Image 1). There was that feeling of connection and being in a different, more connected zone that we wanted more of. We began to watch for and try to recreate those moments, those feelings.
Seeing Signs of the Ox
From time to time we’d see signs (footprints) or feel a touch of that experience that only drew us further on our quest (image 2). Perhaps there were even times where we felt exhaustion or despair because we could only find traces of that concept of a deeper wisdom within ourselves.
We see examples or indicators that there are higher and more supportive styles of leadership.
First Glimpsing the Ox
Just as we’d surrender, there, in the calmness of our mind, we’d see our first glimpse (the ox’s tail) of what we’d been longing for (image 3). We’d see an inkling of our true nature, realizing that it is everywhere.
We see that the leadership we are looking for has to come from us.
Catching the Ox
As we learn to trust and let go, moving beyond our struggle to control or overcome our thoughts, we see the true nature of consciousness (image 4). We see that it is not about becoming but about letting go and being.
We see that the old models of leadership that are based on scarcity and fear are no longer sustainable in the ever-increasing complexity and rapid change of the 21st Century (see How to Thrive in the 21st Century).
Taming the Ox
Developing a practice that calms and quiets our mind, our sense of separation dissolves and our struggle eases (image 5). We begin to appreciate that we are on a path and that the process we’re in is a journey Home.
We see that our deeper level of inner connection results in having a much bigger-picture perspective and sensitivities that open us to being more aware of and supportive of others.
Riding the Ox
Having tamed our mind, we begin to enter what can be one of the more frightening parts of our journey. We are now riding the ox of consciousness (image 6). We might feel that we are in a process of falling off a cliff again and again, but learning to trust that we will rise rather than fall. We let go of needing to know and are in and trusting the present moment.
We see that with our being more vulnerable and seeking feedback, others engage more fully. There are new levels of commitment, cooperation, and bringing out the best in all involved. We see that this style of leadership creates a more supportive and productive work environment.
The Ox has Carried Us Home
In image 7 the ox has carried us home, and when we awake in the morning the ox is gone and it’s only who we truly are that remains. We are living in the present moment as an authentic human being, experiencing higher knowing flowing through us. We are experiencing nirvana.
Living in the present allows us to be more agile and fluid. We see that we can be in the zone and access higher wisdom whenever we choose. By being in the moment, we are not just keeping up with the leading edge, we are creating it. Time slows down. Change is our normal reality. Complexity is simplified. We’re able to go with the flow.
Image eight (an Enso) represents a level of consciousness in which we are aware of the connectedness or oneness of all of existence. As a leader we are aware of and see the interconnection between all stakeholders, including the organization’s impact on society and the world.
All of this is taken into consideration in the design and implementation of plans for the organization. There is less trial and error and more success. Research shows that leadership of this caliber results in a 20 to 40% increase in productivity and profit.
In Touch with the Nature of Life
The nature image represents our sense of Self in harmony with the world and all of our business and social relationships. We see that the ordinary and the ultimate are actually one in the same. We experience the present moment as the essence of life and the optimum awareness for leadership.
We see opportunities where before we only saw challenges and competition. We see how the interconnection between everything can take our life and organization up to entirely new levels of play.
Returning to the Market
This is the equivalent of the frequently used Zen quote, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” This is, in essence, saying we have returned to everyday life, and while it may look the same, it is entirely different. We are different.
We see that by supporting all of the stakeholders involved: the organization, the suppliers, the customers, and the environment, there will be greater lasting success.
As a leader we are running an organization, but now, as a result of our higher level of consciousness, it’s from an entirely new perspective. We return to the marketplace with our hand out in support of others on their journey of leadership. We have become more aware and able to see how to turn our greatest personal and professional challenges into growth opportunities for all involved.
The path of leadership becomes a journey fueled by curiosity that results in personal transformational processes and regular practices that allow the leader and their entire organization to evolve. This results in greater involvement, collaboration, productivity, and profit. It supports a more conscious and supportive way of doing business and living our lives.
Here’s the Main Point
Becoming a higher-level leader requires that you evolve in consciousness.