Change  – Buddha and Managers

Every manager who is even halfway up to something knows the model of the Four Rooms of Change: Denial and Struggle, Resistance and Confusion, Exploration and Renewal, Satisfaction and Commitment.

As a manager, you want of course to get to rooms three and four as quickly as possible. After all, the first two are inefficient, they don't lead anywhere... It's just unfortunate when you try to convince the staff with exactly this argument to please move on to the next room. This usually goes down very badly. Just like the over-euphoric selling of change, while the audience doesn't find it funny at all...

When managers are impatient in the valley of tears and at the same time at their wits' end, a "you have to leave this behind you, it's no use" can slip out, which then again goes down badly as a "typical managerial phrase".

And yet, when the advice comes from another angle, we freeze in awe of the great wisdom. Take the four truths of Buddhism. In a nutshell (and probably not entirely accurate anyway): One: we suffer. Two: we suffer because we hold on. Three: there is a way out. Four: mindfulness is part of that path. It is a matter of radically accepting, letting go, moving on, being in the moment and looking at what possibilities this moment brings.

So "Move on" is not just a managerial slogan, but also part of a great art of living, the fascination of which is causing these very managers to flock to mindfulness seminars in droves – naturally, due to the purchasing power of this clientele, suitably dressed up financially, of course. A nice business model, by the way: you can go up with the price and down with the costs, because we are practising simplicity after all...but let's drop that, I'm digressing. Unfortunately, the whole thing sometimes comes out a bit off: my boss went to a mindfulness seminar, and the next thing I hear from him is: Let go of this stupid complaining.

The Buddhist message may not be any less tough than that of managers. What distinguishes the Buddhist version is that it is accompanied by compassion and empathy. And yes, right, there is another difference: mindfulness does not set a time limit for reaching nirvana...In the project life of the business world, things are usually different.

What does that tell us? It's part of the job to deliver tough messages every now and then and to put others through a tough time. That’s part of change. That's okay, just don't switch off your empathy. If I convey harsh content, I don't have to do it in a harsh way on top of it. Compassionate firmness is more likely to lead the way.

The harshness and/or coldness in tone is not usually due to dark motives, but much more often to understandable self-protection: I prefer not to let the unpleasant sides of change get too close to me. That may work, but firstly only for oneself, not for those who have to receive this tone, and secondly only in the short term. The long-term consequence is emotional deadening – not good for leaders (for whom, anyway?).

So: rather learn to accept that times are sometimes hard, even if all in all it is best to go through it. Drawing inspiration from Buddhist approaches in such situations can be helpful, but please do so with the complete package: clarity, acceptance and compassion go a long way, especially in times of turmoil.

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