Zen and the Art of Leadership


We are all leaders. You may not lead a country or company. You may not lead a team or even a family. But you have to lead at least one person: you.

My friend and colleague Yvonne Fuchs and I have found there to be 5 qualities that make a great leader. These qualities are a distillation of ancient wisdom and modern leadership thinking.

The 5 qualities are: authenticity, inspiration, humility, awakening and tenacity.

If you live these 5 qualities, you are in a position to lead both a team and yourself to a more successful outcome - in whatever way success means to you.

Here’s my personal attempt to share some of what these qualities mean to me. In future postings on Zen of Business website, I’ll be sharing more.

Authentic: Live and Breathe your Values

Authentic ɔːˈθɛntɪk/ (adjective) - True to one's own personality, spirit, or character.

Authenticity is an overused word nowadays and people throw around the maxim: be authentic!

But how? And why? And what does it even mean?

To be authentic means what you think, what you say and what you do are in-line.

Infact, none other than Gandhi said:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Consider these points:

  1. Do you feel you are being authentic to who you are or not?

  2. If not, what’s the reason? Is it fear? What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen? Is it worth pretending to be someone that you’re not?

  3. Is it about success? Do you think by pretending to be someone else, you’ll be seen more positively? Have you ever considered that maybe by being true to yourself and what you stand for, people will respect you even more?

Yesterday, I was coaching someone one to one to help her do bring more work in her business. She was actually trying to find more students to teach mindfulness.

I asked her: ‘What’s your dream work? If you could teach whatever you wanted, what would it be?’

Her answer: ‘I would be teaching all my skills. Not just mindfulness, but also relaxation techniques, hypnotherapy, CBT and more. All the strategies that I believe can help people to relax and recharge.’

So I invited her to develop a 6 week course that offers all those elements. Not just mindfulness. To be more authentic and share what she’s really passionate about. She’s now really excited about developing this new course and can’t wait to tell everyone about it!

Being authentic energises you. Being fake drains you. Being authentic leads to no regrets. Being fake results in a life of regrets.

So be brave today and take your first step to greater authenticity.

Super Tip - Balance mind and heart. Your heart my say quit your job and go travelling for a year. But your head may say you should at least finish your current contract and save a bit of money for the travels. The best solution may be the balance of the two.

Inspire Everyone: Purpose Energises All

Inspiration ɪnspɪˈreɪʃ(ə)n/ (noun)

1. the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

Are you inspired by what you do? Whether it’s sweeping the floor or chairing a meeting, if you’re not inspired by the positive change your actions have on the world, you won’t be inspiring to yourself or others.

But where does inspiration come from? Inspiration comes from connecting to the bigger picture.

Begin not by changing your job or activity, but look at the positive impact you’re making in the world, no matter what your work.

For example, if you work in an accounting office. How do you inspire yourself? Begin by thinking about all the customers you serve - if you didn’t do a good job, they would all suffer. Your work has a positive impact on their lives. And what about your colleagues? Everytime you celebrate someone’s birthday, or make someone a coffee or do a random act of kindness, you’re making the world a happier, kinder place! That’s inspiring. Apply your skills and talents to find some sort of inspiration every single day.

Inspiring others, whether it’s your family or team at work is the same principle. How will making widgets make the world a better place? And if it doesn’t, what can you change to make them more environmentally friendly, or could you donate one with each one you sell?

By offering an exciting vision of a better future, you share a big picture. That’s what gets people excited, including you! Then you can go ahead and make that idea into reality by taking action.

Humble: Everyone’s Contribution is Valued

Humility hjʊˈmɪlɪti/Submit (noun)

The feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others; lack of pride:

"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."
— Rick Warren

The word humble comes from the latin humus meaning ground. So there’s a lovely sense of being grounded when you’re humble.

People often think of humility as meaning ‘I can’t do that’, or ‘me helping you buy a house? That was nothing at all.’

No. Humility is about seeing things as they truly are. And the reality is, you are no more or less than anyone else. We are all equally very special! Humility is about seeing equality rather than arrogance.

So a humble person can be proud of their achievements, but they also need to remember all the many people and things that supported them to get them where they are.

For example, I can be proud of this blog. But I also need to remember, without my teachers, i wouldn’t even be able to write or read. Without electricity or the internet being invented, I wouldn’t be able to post. Without the staff I work with, I would have the time to write this.

Awakener: Unleash Hidden Potential

"Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her."
— Lao Tzu

Awakener - Someone who is able to see the hidden potential in others, and coaches them to unleash that potential

An awakener is self-aware, and therefore able to see the potential in both themselves and others.

So, begin with yourself. Can you see your own potential? What are you capable of doing or being? What potential do others see in you?

The art of coaching and unleashing potential comes from mindful listening, not from advising or judging. Ask open questions and be genuinely curious. Then probe into areas where there’s potential. Then you switch from patiently listening, to praising and encouraging them to come out of their shell and share!

Super Tip - If these questions get you thinking about what you could be truly doing to fulfil your full potential, followed by a feeling of both excitement and fear, you’re looking in the right direction. Whenever you step outside your comfort zone, fear comes up. But together with fear is a sense of excitement - you’re giving more, helping more people or being more authentic.

Wise Tenacity: Knowing When To Hold On & When to Let Go

Tenacious tɪˈneɪʃəs (adjective)

1. Not readily relinquishing a position, principle, or course of action; determined.

“People can be at their most vulnerable, but still tenacious at the same time.”
― Toni Bernhard

When you’re tenacious, you’re willing to stick to what you believe in. Sometimes this is hard in the short term, but creates and much better outcome in the long run.

You need to be tenacious about your morals. If you don’t act in a way that you believe is right, you won’t feel good. You need to be tenacious about your values. If your work or home life is not in line with your core values, you won’t feel content.

The same tenacity is needed in leadership too. Tenacious leaders are congruent - what they think, say and do are in-line.

If you feel your family should eat together, you need to insist on it, despite the groans and grunts and phones and laptops that are being stared at. If you feel your team really needs an away day, you insist on it, despite all the complaints that they are too busy.

The idea of tenacity goes against the idea of letting go often talked about in mindfulness. How do we balance these two ideas?

I think what we hold onto is our core values and beliefs. What you let go of, is the outcome or results - anything that is out of your control.

Wise tenacity is about knowing when to hold on and when to let go. And that wisdom comes from stillness, reflection and having the humility to ask for advice from others.


There are five key elements to Zen and the Art of Leadership. They are authenticity, inspiration, humility, awakening and tenacity. When you apply these approaches to your way of being, you are better able to lead yourself and others to greater success.


Want more? Get More Zen and Rigour in Your Leadership Style next week!

Join me for our half-day masterclass starting in the Museum of Happiness in London on 15 May!

  • Feel more centred and grounded in your leadership style

  • Take time to step back and get clarity about the direction you’re going in

  • Ask questions and get alternative ideas and solutions to your specific challenges

  • Get training with award-winning leadership-trained business coach Yvonne Fuchs, with 20 years of coaching experience

  • Meet me (Shamash) with 20 years experience teaching mindfulness and 8 years experience running two businesses.