There is an increasing consensus that business models based solely on tracking performance and delivering financial value have reached their limits. Even leaders with limited consciousness of global economic and ecological crises face the limits of the corporate performance possible in a patriarchal system that jeopardises psychological safety and disconnects employees from their true nature. To make matters worse, politicians are failing to take responsibility for our troubled world.
In this context we urgently need corporate leaders whose focus is to create the best possible world for our children: a world where people don't have to cross borders to live a decent life — and if they do, they will be welcome; where people respect the planet for what it is — the only source of life; and where our children will experience true love and a deep sense of safety.
Accessing such a level of leadership, based on a more inclusive way of performing, requires pragmatic wisdom, self-knowledge and a strong commitment to contribute to something bigger. For most of us, this starts with our personal exploration of the deeper longing that will define the nature of our leadership.
Last month I was in Plum Village with my 13-year-old-son Liam. Plum Village is a monastery and mindfulness practice centre based in the southwest of France. It was founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in 1982 to help people experience the art of living in harmony with one another and with the Earth.
On our arrival, it was powerful for both of us to experience how the peacefulness and the serenity of the place was generating very unpleasant sensations and thoughts in each of us. As if our whole body was telling us to run away, that slowing down was not for us and that we had much better things to do, as father and son, than joining a community of zen monks for a week and 'doing nothing', even if they seemed to be joyful and very welcoming.
As we had committed a long time ago to share this moment together, and as we trusted that the time together would be beneficial no matter how we spent it, we decided to play by the rules and to explore together the zen practices of mindfulness: basically, sitting and walking meditations where people learn to connect to the present moment, breathing mindfully and experiencing their physical sensations without fighting against the tensions.
After several days of learning to live 'in the present moment' through different practices (playing, walking and swimming mindfully for Liam; talking, working and meditating mindfully for me), we both started to encounter a powerful shift in the way we were experiencing ourselves, our relationship and our environment. In other words, our level of concentration increased in a way that made it possible for us to hear the birds, to see the trees and the smiles, and to enjoy a deeper level of connection with nature and the people around us. We could literally see and experience things that were already there but that we couldn't access in the beginning of the week.
Nourished by this broader consciousness and amazed by the beauty of what we could now see, we spontaneously declared, in different ways, our longing for more playful moments together, more authentic conversations with each other and more contact with nature. This was for both of us the first big insight of the week: the voicing of a unified longing that would influence our activities in a meaningful way.
With time, it became clearer that the unpleasant sensations we experienced in the first hours of our stay had not, in fact, been telling us to go away. On the contrary, the serenity and peacefulness of the place had already begun to help us to feel personal tensions and a kind of longing inside of us. Our body was telling us what it cared about and we could finally hear it. The sensation was unpleasant, of course, because it was voicing what it lacked, but this revelation led us down a pathway toward a richer existence.
Without knowing it, at Plum Village we had experienced the first loop of a simple process called the five powers of mindfulness. A process based on hope and supported by a diligent practice that makes it possible for each of us to broaden our perspectives — our vision of the world; to feel our purpose, which will become the true nature of our leadership; and to engage into meaningful actions.
While one big part of each human being is working to stay safe and get approval, achieving
greatness in leadership requires us to cultivate this other part of ourselves that is longing to live more purposefully.
Today, many people see zen practices as a powerful way to reduce anxiety. And it's true. (Neurobiologists confirm that practices combining mindful breathing and concentration of the mind are powerful ways to decrease anxiety levels.) Still, it is key for our leaders to realise that the main added value of such contemplative practices is a broadening of the perception of our reality that leads to more purposeful performance.
Best of all, inner peace and a deep sense of purpose, while being foundational of exemplary leadership, are only two of the benefits of a disciplined contemplative practice. With an embodied clarity and free from their anxiety, leaders are much better armed to access inclusivity, integrity, trust, authenticity, and the courage to translate their purpose into action.
Leadership is a state of being that can be learned through intentionality and disciplined practice. If you're ready to discover your true nature, register to your first zen meditation retreat now.