Review: The Zen Leader – 10 Ways to Go From Barely Managing to Leading Fearlessly

6 Star Special, Best Practices in Management, Consciousness & Social IQ, Culture, Research, Decision-Making & Decision-Support, Intelligence (Public), Leadership, Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution
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Ginny Whitelaw

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 Stars, Spectacularly SImple, Foundation Book for Epoch B Collective Self-Governance,May 21, 2012

I’ve been a driven over-achiever most of my life, and only started emerging from the “because I said so” culture so characteristic of the Marine Corps and the Central Intelligence Agency, when I realized in 1988 that everything we were doing was NOT WORKING, and I started looking beyond government, beyond command & control, beyond “rule by secrecy,” for answers. Tom Atlee and his book, The Tao of Democracy: Using co-intelligence to create a world that works for all were for me a rite of passage. Since embracing Tom’s wisdom in 2004 I have read a great deal more. If Tom’s book was my introduction to the world of collaboration and collective intelligence, then this book is my graduate-level portal in which I start the transformative process of moving away from impacting on”it” to being part of “it,” a more neutral invested role that stops trying to project “the” answer on recalcitrant bureaucracies, and instead supports emerging networks such as Occupy and the Tea Party and the Freedom Node to Tower to Mesh movement.

I rate this book at six stars and beyond (my top 10% out of 1800+ non-fiction reviews) for multiple reasons.  I will read it again and then donate it.

First, as subtle and simple as it might appear on the surface, this is a DEEP book that represents hundreds of years of integrated understanding about both the zen of being and the zen of teaching leaders who want to change but are at a loss for going about it. I see myself often in this book, generally when the author is describing Epoch A leaders with deeply ingrained habits of command and control.

Second, the book offers one of the best mixes of structured story-telling, side boxes, small exercises, and finally a mini Focus Energy Balance Indicator (FEBI) self-test that I have loaded as a link on the Phi Beta Iota Public Intelligence Blog archival copy of this review (I read in 98 categories, Amazon refused my 2007 suggetions on many points, so the best way to see all my reviews in any one of the 98 categories is to go to Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog — all reviews connect back to their Amazon page). If you use the Excel spreadsheet I created, you can see your own scores across Driver, Organizer, Collaborator, and Visionary.

Third, although neither Resilience nor Panarchy (informed comprehensive self-governance) are in the index or in the text, the spirit of balance in the Panarchy/Resilience cycle (Growth to the Limits; Conservation & Resistance; Constructive Destruction, Chaos, & Innovation; and finally, Birth and Re-Birth with Innovation) is pervasive across the book. This could be the handbook for all citizen leaders (as Occupy notes, it does not have a hierarchical leadership because all its members are leaders — Occupy is a culture hack, not a political or economic or even a social movement).

I strongly recommend Steve Denning’s book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century, as well as Harrison Owen’s latest book, Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organizing World. Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, Dee Hock’s One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization, and Steve McIntosh’s Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution are all recommended as well–I have written summary reviews of all of them–but if you buy only ONE book, then this book is the starting point.

The “ten steps” I list here, since I donate all books once read to a library, and these are my notes, for me, not just a review in public service.

01 From coping to transforming
02 From tension to extension
03 From Either/Or to AND
04 From “Out There” to “In Here”
05 From Playing to Your Strengths to Strengthening your Play
06 From Controlling to Connecting
07 From Driving Results to Attracting the Future
08 From “It’s All About Me” to “I’m All About It”
09 From Local Self to Whole Self
10 From Delusion to Awakening

I want to touch on four of the above briefly.

03 It’s not about choice, it is about balance among options. I have always had an unconventional mind-set, but I did not start questioning the authenticity, legitimacy, or value of the US Government that employed me for 30 years, until 1988, when I realized that we were so obsessed on secrets about a hand-full of denied area targets, that we had given up any thought of actually trying to get a grip on all open knowledge — I have for the past 20 years been fighting for Open Source Intelligence, for public intelligence in the public interest. Today we have a wasted $80 billion a year on secret collection that does not get processed and provides “at best” 4% of what the president needs to know, and nothing for everyone else. When confronted with an either/or “choice,” that is a chance to deeply examine all of the assumptions underlying the choices, seeking a “third way” that is a re-birth with innovation.

04 Control does not scale. This is one reason I am a champion of open source everything. We are at the end of the industrial-era of command and control and unaccountable waste. Although I am by no means an example, I have known for a long time that you have to give up direct control in order to nurture indirect (collective) control. Epoch A top-down hierarchical control is the anti-thesis to Epcoh B bottom-up multinational consensus, and with the possible exception of Admiral McRaven at USSOCOM, there is no one anywhere in the US Government that actually “gets” this.

10 Connected We Are One. I end my latest book with that phrase, and the culminating chapter of this book by Ginny Whitelaw does a superb job of showing that who the “real” me is, when deconstructed, turns out to be a porridge of half-truths, bad assumptions, old cultural codes, and so on. John Taylor Gatto does a nice job in Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling of pointing out how flawed we all are for having been subjected to eighteen years of prison child-care and rote learning. Lionel Tiger goes back even further, with his The Manufacture Of Evil: Ethics, Evolution, and the Industrial System. “We” are the center, once found, are caring intelligent creatures with vivid imaginations and the gift of being able to remember the past and design the future — and we allow ourselves to drink the kool-aid and become cogs in a massive matrix of corruption that could not endure if each of us were “awake” and connected to all the other “awake” individuals.

I want to emphasize that the current situation in which 18 veterans a day are successfully committing suicide here at home after returning from our two mis-begotten wars rooted in 935 now-documented lies led by Dick Cheney, in which Col Ted Westhusing, the highest ranking officer to allegedly commit suicide, and Major Nidal Hasan, who committed suicide while killing others, FRAME the complete collapse of leadership in the USA. Lee Iacocca touches on the vacuum in his book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone?. The choices being made “in our name” from local to national to global levels, are unethical, unaffordable, antithetical to our common goal of creating a prosperous world at peace, a world that works for all. I would close by saying that this book is not a call to arms for violent revolution, nor is it even a manifesto for leadership that can REPLACE the existing corrupt leadership. Much more subtly, it suggests that if each of us becomes be the leader they can be, balancing within among our Driver, Organizer, Collaborator, and Visionary energies, the aggregate will heal itself.

With my one remaining link, I will recommend Will and Ariel Durant’s classic summary of their multi-volume history of civilization, Lessons of History 1ST Edition.
2012 is the beginning of a new era — the era of conscious, informed self-governance. This book is a hugely important contribution to our collective consciousness and individual contribution to achieving that consciousness.

Robert David Steele

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EXTRA: Book’s Framing Self-Test [Excel Spreadsheet].  Replace Robert Steele’s numbers with your own in the column for answers, see your four energies in relation when you complete the column.

Zen Leader Spreadsheet