Leadership Lessons From Eckhart Tolle
If you’ve ever read “The Power of Now” or “A New Earth”, you know that author, Eckhart Tolle, brings fresh perspective to the human experience. Though his writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, the teachings that continue to hold the most resonance for me are rather universal. Specifically, he states convincingly that non-judgement, non-resistance, and non-attachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living. As it turns out, they’re also excellent guides for leaders.
Someone close to me recently told me with conviction that “Life is judgement”. Well, it’s actually not… Life simply is. Judgement is only the duality of meaning we humans attach to it – good or bad, right or wrong, black or white. When we make judgements, we make the world a little less uncertain. Putting people or situations into neatly labelled boxes allows us to feel a little more comfortable about our world. It also allows us to feel a little better about ourselves, especially if we make a negative judgement about someone else.
But we can quickly see how judgement can cause problems for leaders. It is a proven fact that the moment knowledge becomes a certainty, the mind closes to new information. If leaders too quickly make judgements about their people, or if they hold on too long to previous assessments, they could very easily become willingly blind to any opposing evidence. From here, it’s pretty easy to see how certain people fall out of favour with their bosses and others become “the chosen ones”. This can become dangerous to an organization’s culture and it’s certainly not supportive of everyone bringing their best selves to work every day.
Like judgement, it is natural for humans to resist accepting difficulty in our lives. Instead of quickly accepting whatever comes our way, we tend to try to make sense of situations that are impossible to make sense of. How could we ever make sense of the death of a child for example? Instead we spend quiet moments questioning – why him/her?, why me?, how do I deserve this? etc. And in the process, we delay acceptance and healing.
Similarly, leaders often deny or delay processing information that may contradict an important strategic initiative. We resist seeing things as they are because we like to hold onto the comfort of our judgement. In the process of delaying acceptance, a lot of time can be wasted. Blackberry completely missed the massive movement Apple was leading to trump security with ease of use. By the time they were ready to launch their new operating system, the need for it had become obsolete.
Attachment, strangely enough, is also born of judgement. We become attached to a certain person, outcome or point of view. In the process, we essentially attach our happiness to the continuation of a relationship, a desired outcome or simply “being right”. When you think of this objectively, it’s madness. Why would any of us make our happiness dependent on an occurrence that is completely random and out of our control?
In the world of business, this manifests most often by a leader’s desire to be “right”. We can become so attached to our theories, our strategies and our need for control that we become tunnel-visioned. If our strategies pay off, it can quite easily reinforce the perception of our role in the success. But this simply papers over an unhealthy reliance on a specific outcome. If things don’t work out, the fallout can be crushing to the psyche of the leader and the business itself.
The Need For Balance
At the risk of becoming too existential, examples abound of the universe constantly seeking stasis. A clock’s pendulum, birth and death (in both stars and living creatures), shifting tectonic plates, high and low pressure weather systems. The concept that extremes have a natural mechanism to swing to the opposite extreme isn’t new. It’s simply the way our world works. What Eckhart Tolle was essentially saying is that shit happens! It only hurts us and those around us to judge people, resist reality, and hold on too tightly to any outcome. For leaders running large organizations, the stakes are infinitely higher.