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What do you do when you meet the “manager” on the road? Kill him!

Stop––before you break out the torches and pitchforks––I am not inciting you to violence.

Do not, under any circumstances, do any harm to your boss. We’re not talking about your boss anyway. We’re talking about you.

Martial artists in the Asian traditions borrow a lot from the great Zen and Taoist philosophers. Lots of lessons are taught in “koans”––a kind of riddle that is meant to inspire deep thought.

One of the most famous is this one:

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, what do you do?”

Today we tend to take things quite literally. Try to let that go for a moment. In this puzzle, the Buddha is not real person. He’s a metaphor––a representative. In this case, he represents the ideal self––enlightened––perfect.

Of course, none of us are. Perfect that is. So if you meet this perfect being on your life’s journey, and remember this would be you, what should you do?

"Kill him."

Believe it or not, that’s considered the most, well––enlightened answer.

This means that if you see yourself as perfect or fully enlightened, the best course of action is to squash that notion right away. None of us are fully enlightened and perfection is not destination––it’s a never ending process. In martial arts we call this realization “Beginner’s Mind.” More on that another time.

Now let’s talk about this “manager.” Notice that I always put the “manager” in quotations. I absolutely want this “manager” to stand out…

The “manager” in this koan represents everything that’s wrong with leadership today. Our “manager” is the enemy of the genuine leader. Here are some of the things the “manager” does:

  • Micro-manages

  • Controls

  • Imposes “top-down” authority

  • Issues orders

  • Motivates with incentives and punishment (or tries too)

  • Blames others for mistakes or shortfalls

  • Looks outside for solutions

  • Places ends above means

Our “manager” might also be:

  • A poor listener

  • Lacking in effective communication skills

  • Reactionary

  • Lacking in interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence

  • Cold or uncaring

  • Authoritarian or dictatorial

  • Selfish

  • Has a hard time expressing true meaning or purpose

  • Fearful or even paranoid

Sound like anyone you know––or someone you’ve met in the past? Someone you might recognize in the mirror?

Before we kill this “manager,” let’s have some pity. Have you ever noticed that in the best stories, the villain is usually a somewhat sympathetic character? We don’t like what he does or what he stands for, but we can understand why. This sets up a conflict that makes him more interesting and engaging, and it’s usually because we see a bit of ourselves in the villain!

So why does the “manager” act this way? Well––the reasons can be quite understandable and rational.

  • The “manager” might be protecting his or her job or turf.

  • This person might have been burned before––had past experiences that made them cautious, suspicious or fearful.

  • They might have an extreme sense of personal responsibility that might make it difficult to give up command and control authority.

  • They may actually be under attack!

Does THIS sound like anyone you know? Have you ever seen this person in the mirror when you brushed your teeth?

Any of us––each of us––ALL of us could be this “manager.” Most of us have been at one point or another. And most of us missed it at least once or twice.

On your road to becoming an authentic, effective leader––you’re going to meet this “manager”––and he will be you!

Kill that inner “manager” and replace that person with the authentic leader.

It’s about letting go of the things that are holding us back, all those things that are preventing us from being a tremendous leader. To do that, we’ve got to recognize and acknowledge our thoughts. That requires continual self-awareness, reflection and humility.

Commit yourself to two incredibly powerful disciplines:

#1…At least once a year, preferable more often, solicit feedback on your leadership performance. Involve people at all levels in your domain, from the front lines, direct reports and the folks you answer to.

#2…Dedicate at least one day a year to solitary, uninterrupted self-reflection.

Be brutally honest with yourself and unmercifully critical. Identify any areas where you may have slipped and become the “manager.”

The “manager” motivates. (Or tries to.) The LEADER INSPIRES.

The “manager” delegates. The LEADER EMPOWERS.

The “manager” drives or pushes. The LEADER GUIDES.

Now don’t worry. You’re not losing anything by killing off your inner “manager.”

That person is likely stuck, stressed and frustrated. That’s because the “manager” is also quite often a very dedicated and hard working individual. He or she also usually feels misunderstood or under appreciated. The “manager” is often working his or her tail off and getting nowhere.

Put down the baggage and you’ll begin to accelerate. You’ll accomplish much more. You’ll see opportunities where before there were only obstacles. You’ll begin to realize that your best expands when you Inspire, Empower and Guide others to be their best.

So let’s pull it all together:

  • Identify the traits and practices of the “manager” that are holding you back.

  • Let them go.

  • Replace them with the positive disciplines of the LEADER.

  • Repeat––often!

Note the last step. This is not a one-off. “Perfection is not a destination––it’s a never ending process!”

Every time you see the “manager” on the road––kill him!

Then you’ll be free to continue your journey as the genuine Leader.

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