A Leadership Lesson From a Shaolin Monk

I came across some old photos from Shaolin Temple in China. I was there for a few days two years ago, and I still remember one specific conversation I had with my guide who was a local monk and kung fu master.  He talked about similarities between Zen and Kung Fu, and he explained how both had the same founder, Bodhidharma.

We talked about many things including leadership. One of the most profound things that stuck with me was his comment that a master of Zen or Kung Fu always leads from within the team, so to speak, not from outside or above. 

He said too many times leaders or coaches step on the sideline and do not get involved in the basics anymore. He believed great leadership was staying in the game and still doing the basics, still setting an example. It is unfathomable for a Kung Fu master not to practice, or a Zen master not to sit in Zazen, (or a CrossFit trainer not to throw down in a WOD, I thought).

In business, however, leaders often stop doing the basics that made them great. Sales leaders stop pitching, product managers stop coding, HR leaders stop recruiting and TV producers stop editing.

It was a good reminder to always stay in the game and lead from within and not from without.

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