Q & A

What inspired you to write Buddha: 9 to 5? When I owned my marketing agency, I personally witnessed a great deal of suffering in the workplace, which was created mostly by ego and poor communication patterns, both internal and external. Simultaneously, I was steeped in Buddhist study. It became clear to me that the same principles that I was learning in my studies could help managers, executives and CEOs lead from a higher place -- a place that engages wisdom, compassion, and their own intelligence. And so I wrote the book.

What’s the core message of your book? When CEOs and managers lead with compassion, wisdom, and the right intention, they are building a platform for long-term reward. These virtues will not only make us happier people but also more successful. The path delivered in the book is the formula for waking up an organization and improving the bottom line with defined and immeasurable results. The path offers ageless tools that will empower and engage leaders and their employees.

Is Corporate America going to be receptive to a Buddha approach to running a business? I think that Corporate America is currently in a time of great stress and turmoil and that it is definitely ready for these principles. The other means of manipulation, dishonesty, and fear-based management have proven to be unsuccessful in the long term. The eightfold path is a proven means to an end that was first offered to the world 2,500 years ago. The approach is secular in nature and delivered in this book in a business context.

Tell us how a CEO can think like Buddha? This is the core of the book. Each of us already is the Buddha! All that we have to do is to tap into and engage our own intrinsic wisdom, compassion, and intelligence. When we do that, leading like a Buddha is intuitive. The path in the book provides tools that can help us to access those virtues anytime and all the time…and especially 9 to 5!

What are what you call the “four immeasurables” of a leader? The four immeasurables are core qualities that help a leader formulate his or her mission…they are the principles which drive the integrity and, therefore, are their non-negotiables. These four core virtues are:

Loving Kindness - communication
Compassion - growth
Joy - success
Equanimity - harmony

Which CEOs or companies practice, in some way, what you recommend? It is not all bad news in Corporate America. There are many companies and leaders who are doing it right! The book delivers many case studies of success and improved bottom lines by those leading with these virtues. For example, Johnson & Johnson has stayed true to its mission statement for decades, the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company lives by its credo, A.G. Lafely brought Procter and Gamble back to financial success by taking the right action, and Jeffrey Swartz at Timberland represents the soul of right livelihood.
You apply the Eightfold Path of Buddha to business and leadership. What are those eight principles?

Right View: Vision Right Intention: Mission
Right Speech Right Action: Accountability
Right Livelihood Right Effort
Right Mindfulness Right Concentration

One of them is “Right Speech,” namely, to tell the truth. Why do many stumble over that one? Right Speech requires being honest and sometimes that means exposing who you really are. Corporate America has trained leaders to hide their authenticity in order to hide any flaws and imperfections. After a while, this filtering of the facts inhibits an organization’s ability to develop a culture with open, genuine communication. In order to wake up an organization, re-engineer how we communicate, and free ourselves from confusion, it is helpful to understand the hot spots that block our success. The Buddha referred to these as mental poisons. In a business context, the hot spots are liabilities that directly affect our bottom lines. They are desire, aggression, jealousy, arrogance, and ignorance. When we can tame these traits, we can open our hearts and minds to honest communication…Right Speech.

You also talk of a vision and a mission. How does a company truly execute what it adopts to be its purpose – other than to make money? If you look at the mission and vision statements of companies that are truly successful like Starbucks or the Ritz Carlton, you would not see making money in the mission statement. Holding to the values, vision, and intention of an organization is what will strengthen and grow the bottom line of an organization, intuitively and organically.

Nancy, you promote how one should practice “Right Livelihood” which means one should love what they do and to do so with passion. But aren’t many people at jobs they no longer like? Sadly that is true. And in many cases, those “trapped” are senior level executives who feel compelled to ride out their tenure, at the expense of their own happiness. The tragedy here is that the organization will suffer from the lack of spirit and motivation anyway, and the employee is suffering daily. Beyond that, there are no guarantees as to how long we will live, so to waste one more day or hour in an environment that does not feel good is detrimental. Because everyone has basic goodness and some way to contribute, finding your calling may require courage, stamina, and belief in oneself.

You also encourage that one think in the moment. Does this mean to only think short-term for the present or do you mean we must focus on what’s at hand in order to best plan a long-term strategy? This is an ambidextrous state of mind. As leaders, we must stay focused on our vision and our mission, but maintain the agility to inhale the moment and be present. The focus on both the short-term task and long-term reward is what delivers the clarity.

Tell us, how would the Buddha: 9 to 5 approach be applied to a situation where promotions don’t always seem to take place on the merits? This has to do with the path of Right Effort. By staying focused on the work, while practicing patience, dignity, and perseverance, an employee will experience their ultimate reward. It may not come in the form that the person believes it should come in. But ultimately, by staying focused on doing good work, one’s attachment to their own personal and immediate gain will soften. Often the long-term results are far greater than the promotion that was initially desired. The other lesson is to practice joy for the success of others rather than resentment and jealousy. By turning your heart outward and your work inward, you can relax, be content, and free yourself to realize your greater potential.

And how would Buddha: 9 to 5 approach a situation where a boss had to find a way to improve communications internally amongst his department? The book offers multiple tools for cultivating effective and harmonious communication in the workplace. One of my favorite models is the LEAP model. That is Listen, Explore, Appreciate, and Present. This four-step tool enables the communicator to open their heart and listen with unmitigated truthful focus, explore with questions that offer more information, and emphasize genuine listening. It is equally important to appreciate what has been said verbally to show empathy and then present your point of view with wakeful presence. This tool can be used one-on-one and in group dialogue.

How would you take a Buddha: 9 to 5 approach to a merger? I experienced many mergers and acquisitions while in business and most of the time the integration strategy was so poor that the deals were not successful. Why? Because the emphasis was exclusively on short-term, bottom-line results. A successful merger has to do with having the right intention. If the Buddha were to be the CEO of a merger, the top level strategies would be: 1) treat all employees with compassion; 2) have the wisdom to fine-tune the vision and mission of both cultures to integrate their strengths; and, 3) exercise critical intelligence for the good of all (not just a few) by holding to a long-term view of success.

When a corporate board is searching for a new CEO, what traits of Buddha should they be looking for? Assuming that the basics of experience, strong leadership skills and knowledge are in place, there are three qualities of the Buddha that will make the difference in a successful long-term hire: compassion, wisdom, and mindfulness.

How should a worker use meditation and introspection to improve her productivity? Meditation is beneficial in so many ways, both personally and professionally. To begin with, it is a healthy way to reduce stress, and one’s personal health is essential to working intelligently and productively. Mediation strengthens the mind and softens the heart providing the clarity needed to make mindful decisions. Meditation also helps to diffuse the constant chatter in our minds that inhibits our ability to focus and stay present. At the same time, having accessed the present moment with mindful intention, our thoughts become more fluid and creative which expands our productivity and desire to do good work. Meditation is the vehicle to waking up and improving the bottom line!

How do we utilize a Buddha: 9 to 5 approach to resolving conflicts? Conflict usually stems from one’s desires and emotions. We are emotionally attached to a desired outcome and that attachment clouds our perception and heightens the conflict. The real bottom line here is to take the emphasis off of “me” and place it on others. This simple shift in mindset helps to eliminate ego, the source of most conflict, and open the gateway to find solutions. By identifying the source of the conflict, be it fear, ego, or desire and shifting that energy to finding creative solutions, you can begin to manage with a pithier, more strategic, and effective leadership style.

What is an “Awake Employee” or an “Awake CEO”? An awake CEO places the emphasis on serving others, the good of the organization, and making a positive impact on the world. They are awake when they care about something greater than themselves, and routinely and intuitively access their own basic wisdom, intelligence, and compassion to make a difference. An awake CEO expresses the Buddha that resides in all of us.

What do you see as the primary challenge to a business becoming infused with the principles of compassion, vision, and mindfulness? The trappings of ego fulfillment, immediate gratification, and short-term winning at any expense must be dissolved. The path offers eight tools in which to do this, beginning with having the right vision and mission. That is the first place to start and sets the groundwork to allow for an organization’s employees to experience and apply compassion, wisdom, and make mindful decisions.

What does it mean for a business leader to have a commitment to service? Leadership assumes an obligation to give back, to service the world, and to make it a better place. When one has the karmic fortitude, the intelligence, and wisdom to lead others, they also must make the commitment to themselves to realize their gifts, their true potential….daily. And once realized, as an awake leader, there is no alternative but to seek ways to give back and enhance the world through their leadership skills and position.

What can be done to silence the chaos in the office – or as Buddha says, to stop fixating on a “wanting mind”? Chaos in the office involves people working from their own agendas, generally motivated by ego. In chaos we do not settle our minds. Therefore, there is no rest, renewal, or replenishment. With inexhaustible tenacity, we stay fixed on a desired outcome, often numb to the damage we may be inflicting on the soul of the organization and on ourselves. The Buddha called this fixation on the result a “wanting mind.” Meditation is the ultimate medicine for a wanting mind. But just finding a few moments of silence, with the goal to stifle the speedy, chaotic chatter, if only for a moment, can diffuse the chaos. By stepping away from a situation for a few minutes, we create a silence that is long enough to affect the challenge at hand. Creating moments of “no thought” in the boardroom can also help to access the brilliant wisdom that innately resides there.