Implementing Zen - Based Principles to Become a Conscious Leader

Hosted By

Alana Muller

CEO & Founder
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Podcast Guest

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Eric Kaufmann


Episode Summary

Eric Kaufmann, executive coach and CEO of Sagatica, shares how curiosity about yourself and others can deepen business relationships. Learn how becoming aware of your internal processes and biases can open up your mind, as well as business opportunities.

“You can see the bigger world, and when you see the bigger world, you have more options, more choices, people get more engaged, you make better decisions [and] you drive better results.”



Alana Muller 0:09
Welcome to, a podcast from Enterprise Bank & Trust that's empowering business leaders one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank & Trust thank you for tuning in to another episode.

Hello, listeners, welcome back to podcast. So great to have you with us. Change maker and executive mentor, Eric Kaufmann of Sagatica, brings a unique blend of more than two decades of business results with three decades of Zen training. He is a fellow and thought leader at Harvard's Institute of Coaching, and he mentors and coaches CEOs and executives through leadership, strategic, relationship and life changes and challenges. He guides leaders to breakthroughs that resolve leadership breakdowns. Eric is the author of “The Four Virtues of a Leader: Managing the Hero's Journey Through Risk to Results,” and “Leadership Breakdown: How Conscious Leaders Generate Breakthroughs That Enrich Business and Life.” His books teach leaders how to think and what to do in order to become conscious leaders that easily navigate uncertainty and anxiety to achieve meaningful results. Eric, welcome to podcast.

Eric Kaufmann 1:32
Thank you, Alana. I'm totally delighted to be with you.

Alana Muller 1:35
Well, I have to say, I already feel smarter being in your presence. So I'm so glad you're here.

Eric Kaufmann 1:39

Alana Muller 1:39
I've shared already a little bit about your background. Take our listeners through your professional journey and why you're so passionate about engaging with leaders.

Eric Kaufmann 1:49
Well, thank you, I guess there's two parts in there, right? Why am I passionate about engaging with leaders? And let me start with that, because that'll make sense about my professional journey. I think that, you know, one of the things that, you know, sort of a fact in the world that we live in, is that the forces that are shaping our society, right, how we think, what we think about, what we believe, what we crave, what we desire, the fashions, you know, so much of that is now formed in fashion by businesses, right? It is, you know, the government has a hand in it, the churches or the religious institutions have a hand. But, you know, trust in government has declined, plummeted over the years. The religious participation has plummeted over the years, and business leaders are the de facto shapers of humanity and even the physical planet. And so that's kind of a macro observation. And so to effect any kind of meaningful change, we need to engage and activate business leaders who, for the most part, have not been trained for this, right? So, you know, we all went to business school to figure out, you know, p & l and marketing and operational excellence and strategic, you know, intelligence, but we didn't necessarily go to school to come out, as you know, corporate social responsibility drivers.

Alana Muller 3:06
Well, and so frequently, it's almost as if that is frowned upon in business, that we forget that there's actually humans on the other end of the transaction, and that we, as professional leaders, as business leaders may have some responsibility to shape our world. And it seems that that's what you're talking about.

Eric Kaufmann 3:23
It was sort of a year or so into COVID. So that was maybe what, a year and a half, two years ago, because it was, it would have been mid-21, right? So about a year and a half ago, and one of the CEOs I coach was like, "well, what the hell am I supposed to do with all this? Like, why am I taking care of my people, that's not my job. My job is to, you know, ensure that we kick butt and that we are on track strategically, and I've had enough struggles right now mid-COVID than taking care of all my people.”

And the reality is that leaders are now in that position. And oh, by the way, there's a direct 100% correlation between the degree to which a leader is an effective human engaging with humans and their ability to generate the kind of productivity engagement, innovation, creativity from the people around them. So, this is not just a conversation about how do you make the world a better place. How do you make the business more effective?

Alana Muller 4:16
And a leader. You know, I remember years ago, an HR role that I had, and one of the things that we talked a lot about is that happy employees lead to happy customers, which leads to happy shareholders. And so just sort of the interconnectivity of each of these various roles is really critical. And frankly, the leader is the person who sets the tone.

Eric Kaufmann 4:40
100%. And so that, you know, that sort of brings us to how did I get here, right? I went to school you know, I got my business degree. I went to work at 3M, then I went to Corning, so big institutions. I went to work for a smaller company that you know, not a big name, but it occurred to me as I was working for my bosses and I grew up in sort of my own leadership role and became, you know, increasingly more. So, my scope of authority grew, it occurred to me just how impactful the relationship between the leader and the team is and the relationship between the team and the outputs, is, to the point you just made, right.

And so what actually started happening to me was that I was becoming, you know, I had sort of gained this reputation as being a leader who was not only effective with my team, but that I was beginning to really help other leaders around me, my peers, other folks, people in the departments, I got to a point where I thought to myself, “Oh, geez, you know, what I'm actually enjoying at this point more than having to kind of ride through on these objectives and KPIs is like, switching on these people to be better leaders.” And I was seeing the kind of amplification of getting other leaders to be switched on and tuned in more effectively, and what that does to the business as a whole. And then it just came to a point. And you know, it was, I decided, well, wait, this is not only good for businesses, really exciting to me, like, deeply satisfying, right?

And so I actually had a conversation with my wife and said, “you know, this feels like a calling, like, I'm really good at this.” And she goes, “well, yeah, but can you make money at this?” I was like, “God, you're being such a {inaudible}. I can’t have this conversation right now.” Right, like a typical, you know, anyway, so I'm delighted to have figured out how to do this for a living for 20 years, it was really, there was a turning point where I said, I don't want to do this as part of my job, I want this to be my job. And it was scary. It was freaking terrifying.

Alana Muller 6:36
Of course, I mean, this is something I can deeply relate to, having been in a similar position. And you know, it's interesting, I hear from so many people things like, “oh, you know, I don't want to follow my passion as my career because then it's my job and not the thing that I just love most.” And I think to myself, why can't they be one in the same? And so you sound like you are sort of joyful in the same way that I am, that I get to get up in the morning and do the thing that I love most. And so I say bravo to you that you've discovered that. And in fact, it kind of leads me to something I wanted to ask you about. You, you talk about, you have a particular phrase that I want to point out and ask you to talk a little bit more about that. And that is this notion of conscious leadership. And you're very specific, I think about the words conscious leadership. I want to know, what does that mean to you? And, and how can we each aspire to being more conscious as leaders?

Eric Kaufmann 7:36
I'm glad you pulled a specific one out, my new book, relatively new, has come out. It's called “Leadership Breakdown,” as you mentioned. And it's how conscious leaders generate breakthroughs that enrich business and life. And so I actually sat down to write a whole book about this construct. And, you know, I'll maybe get an easy way to sort of transition to this.

So two hours ago, I was on a coaching call with a client. She's a CFO of a fairly large, kind of mid market business, I think they're like a $20 million business. And she was frustrated, she was frustrated this morning. And she was frustrated, because she's having a conversation with her CEO. And the CEO is really focused on the top line and the CFO saying, "We really should look at the controllable expenses, we have to manage the bottom line." And you know why she's frustrated because she's not being taken seriously. She's not being respected or opinion is not being taken with the gravitas that it deserves. So we can get to a whole conversation about what that's all about. But really at the root of that is at the root of what happens in so many of these, particularly executive level, because that's where I live, sort of in the executive level, conversations is, the executives already have blinders on. Or they have certain personal biases, or they have preferences, right?

Then it affects strategy, it affects hiring, it certainly affects even finance and financial decisions. And what happens is when folks get this really myopic view of how to sort of you know what's right and how to do it, the CEO is like, "Well, we only need to focus on growing the top line." That's not really a business savvy answer, that's a personal preference, right? That's a personal, that's vanity. Right? It's really vanity. But, we see it playing all the time.

And so many of the disagreements and bad decisions and poor choices that are happening in leadership teams are happening because folks are stuck in what I call “egomyopia.” “Egomyopia” is kind of like not seeing and managing your own ego and they're becoming small, kind of near-sighted about everything that they're doing.

And so the distinction for me is you're either going to be a conscious leader or you're going to be an egomyopic leader. My egomyopic is on yourself stuck in arguments, you find yourself insisting on your position, you find yourself not very open minded. You find yourself belittling people, you find people that are defensive around you or not bringing bad news. That's the egomyopic leader. Right? And so my work in large measure is how do we sort of correct that egomyopia, and help a leader and the CEO be more conscious.

What is conscious? It means that you are more aware of your internal process, your own biases and your own thoughts and your own preferences, and much more aware of the people and situations around you. If your awareness grows, you're not so stuck, right? That myopia has literally been corrected. And you can see the bigger world, when you see the bigger world, you have more options, more choices, people get more engaged, you make better decisions, you drive better results.

Alana Muller 10:30
I love that. And I mean, surely, if we can pause and be somewhat introspective about our own behaviors, we all can become more conscious. So I just love that. And, and frankly, I mean, as you're kind of talking about your passion. I mean, I can actually just like hear the enthusiasm in your voice. And, you know, it's clear that this is truly your superpower. And so I want to talk a little bit more about that. And you have the unique ability to guide leaders past their perceived edge of achievement to unlock their next out of sight and unrealized potential. I mean, even as you talk about this client that you were with this morning, how do you do this? And what's one way that we can all benefit from the leadership tips that you recommend to your own clients?

Eric Kaufmann 11:12
I love, by the way, having been given the moniker of a superpower, right? I don't, I don't get that everyday. So there's a lot I'm gonna have to share with my kids.

Alana Muller 11:19
It comes with a cape too. You get a cape that you get to wear around the house.

Eric Kaufmann 11:24
You mentioned at the outset, I mean, I have been really deeply in my Zen meditation practice for 37 years. So, a really long time. And so meditation is many things, and it has many facets, but you know, chief among them, is getting really, really comfortable with reality. And now that might sound sort of esoteric or weird, you know, what does that mean? Most of the stuff that executives are grappling or struggling with, or making mistakes around, has to do with what I call egomyopia, right? Not seeing things beyond their perception, and fear.

Fear is like the basic mood of the ego. Fear of humiliation, fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, right? It's fear, fear, fear. And so, one of the great things that I have learned to do over the many years is to contextualize all those internal processes. Fear, insecurity, greed, the inner critic. And I've learned from very personal experience, how to be with that reality, not shy away from it, which is hiding, or try to overwhelm it, which is fighting. So if you don't hide from something, if you don't fight from something, what you're left with is reality, vibrating in its fullness in the moment.

And so when I engage with executives, our work is to actually arrive at reality. And once you know, a CEO is actually opening their eyes to reality, the reality of what's happening inside of them, their fear of failure, or the fear of, you know, humiliation. And then we can deal with that fear. I mean, I talked with the CEO yesterday, who was really grappling with this big decision, you know, what it came down to, it really came down to fear of failure, he just doesn't want to look like he has no power.

And so he is pushing this, everybody on his team is waiting, money being wasted. And it's a totally personal thing. And so when we can actually go into reality, what's real, and then address what needs to be addressed, whether it's interpersonally, within one person, or interpersonally, right, because Joan and Bob, the CFO and the CEO are fighting, because they have a disagreement over how to approach a strategy. That's more fear, right? More uncertainty. My superpower is to help people face reality, because once you face reality, you have all kinds of options.

Alana Muller 13:50
Right. Well, and how cool to be able to sort of walk right into it. And, you know, power through it as opposed to kind of trying to operate around it or pretend it doesn't exist, because it clearly exists. It exists for us all. And so the ability to face it head on, is super empowering. So that's great.

Eric Kaufmann 14:09
It is, I mean, think about how many teams are using all kinds of workarounds to not talk about a topic. Not bring it up to the VP of Finance, right? So this is the other piece that I talk about, this is what I call “dialogue deficiency.” Dialogue deficiency is not having real-time, meaningful conversations about topics that matter. How many leadership teams have I sat in where they're talking about not stuff that they really need to be talking about? Because you can't talk about it, because people get freaked out? That's the egomyopia. Right? So, yeah, I'm fully savvy to, like, we need to apply this to strategy and operations, execution, you know, vendor relations and so forth. But at the crux of it, for the most part, are just people being unaware and behaving badly. And if we can have them be more aware, and behave in a way that's honorable to themselves and respectful to each other, the productivity goes through the frickin’ roof.

Alana Muller 15:04
Yeah, love that. As you and I have talked about, the thing that I'm personally most focused on is building better, more meaningful professional relationships. And so I want to sort of keying off of this conversation that we're having. I want to talk a little bit about how you formulate and build relationships and, and more specifically, how do you ensure that connections, the ones that you make are both transformational and also mutually beneficial? Because you're talking a lot about, you know, how people feel this fear of all the things we've discussed failure or looking stupid, not knowing the answer, things not going as intended. I think that what that does is it throws up barriers all around us. And so, and so when you're thinking about both your own relationships, and then the relationships that your clients have with one another, again, how do those become transformative and mutually beneficial?

Eric Kaufmann 15:56
I think you're exactly right to apply what I was saying about fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of humiliation, because that's also what gets in the way of building meaningful relationships, in your network in the community, right? It's not just in the team. And what happens, more often than not, and I bet you can speak to this for days, is that folks, in attempting to form relationships, are more concerned with being validated or looking good, or sounding good or being liked, than they are about showing up authentically or really being. You know, to me, one of the key features of how you cultivate a really meaningful relationship, whether that's me as a coach, whether that was me as an executive, whether that's anybody else is one of the great, great lessons of meditation.

Meditation is, there are so many things we can talk about for a long time. But one of the key features of really meditating is being deeply curious. Curious, instead of saying, “Oh, dammit, I don't want to think about this, you know, evil thing that happened in work that I just wanted to get out of my head.” You can be curious about it, right? Now think about bringing curiosity into a relationship. It opens up 1,000 doors. I'm curious about how you feel. I'm curious about what you're passionate about. I'm curious about what your life is like. I'm curious about what your family’s like. I'm curious about what your vision is five years from now. I'm curious about, you know, what really switches you on, what terrifies you, what do you miss it? You follow where I'm going. Right?

And so curiosity is like a profound way to connect because the other side of it, coming in, is like, I need to show you how freakin’ clever, smart, powerful, connected, rich genius I am. So that's just a turn off. I don't want to stick around somebody who's spending the time trying to impress me. I'm much more interested if somebody's actually interested in me. Most people are getting really interested when they are being, you know, known. What do we want? What? Go to a wedding. I've gone to lots of weddings over the years. I'm sure you have too. I'm a nerd. Right? I'm curious. I would ask the bride and groom, “Why did you marry her? Why are you marrying him?” Not accusatory, maybe sometimes. But mostly just like, out of curiosity, the prevailing answer, I kid you not -- do this experiment on your own. I hear this: “Because when I'm with her, I can really be…” What's the answer? “Myself, who I am.” What do humans want? We want to be known. So I don't, you know, go in and be curious, don't go in to impress, go in to discover.

Alana Muller 18:28
I mean, curiosity. It's, you're right. It just opens everything. So I think that's really beautiful. It's a beautiful way to think about it. And, and to think about building true connections with other people that it's not about what somebody has, but who they are and why and where does it come from. So that's really lovely.

Eric Kaufmann 18:47
I've been coaching executives for over 20 years. So my sort of my experience before my degree is that and so I have a ton of knowledge about leadership about business. But my number one point of entry there was curiosity. I mean, that's the difference between a consultant who's going to come in with everything they know, and a coach who's going to unpack what's happening, and then rearranging the way that's more productive. And that's what I would wish for every executive leader who's listening to this podcast, right? Is be curious, right? It's gonna be awesome for your network. It's amazing, as a leadership tool, and it can change any kind of intimate relationship, even at home.

Alana Muller 19:25
I love that. That's beautiful. I want to ask you, Eric, do you have a mentor and, yes or no, and then or who's someone in your life who has had a meaningful impact on you, your career, your personal journey?

Eric Kaufmann 19:40
I don't currently have one mentor. I've had teachers and mentors for decades. The top of the list is my mom and dad, right? As teachers and mentors. So I don't currently have a single mentor. What I have is, you know, I've been in a men's group for the last seven years, you know, the same 13 guys I've been meeting, month after month for seven years, the same 13 guys. We haven't changed. It's kind of a remarkable, amazing thing. And they're all really kind of curious, switched on entrepreneurs, executives. So it's been a mentoring space and mentoring dynamic, right? We've just had our meeting on Monday. I had an issue, I brought up the issue, and I have, you know, 10-11 other guys sort of weighing in from different perspectives to help me unpack the issue and put it in perspective. And so, I don't currently have a single mentor.

Alana Muller 20:32
I love that it's a group. How did the group come together, out of curiosity? I mean, did you find each other? Did you seek one another out?

Eric Kaufmann 20:39
In 2016, my mentor passed away. And I was like, I really want to have that kind of mentoring relationship. But I don't really want to find a person who would fit all you know, kind of check all the boxes. So I called around a bunch of guys that I respect and admire around town, and it was the easiest frickin’ sell of my life. Every single one was like, yes, we've been waiting for something like this. And seven years later, nobody's dropped out. And we haven't added anyone. It's been remarkable.

Alana Muller 21:09
Amazing. And was there magic to the number 13? Or that just happened to be the number once you asked them? That's who said yes.

Eric Kaufmann 21:17
Yeah, that was it. I mean, I only asked those people. There were no no's, it was just a bunch of yes's. And it got to a point where I was like, yeah, I think we're full. That's it.

Alana Muller 21:27
Okay. Yeah, that's cool. And where do you meet?

Eric Kaufmann 21:31
We meet on the third Monday of the month at different members' homes, then we take turns buying dinner, and it's very deep and very intense and very nourishing, really profoundly.

Alana Muller 21:47
Yeah, I think that's really beautiful. And so cool that you have formed a cohort that is trusting and I suspect that over the years, there's probably been lots of deep discussion and lots of laughter, maybe some tears and some good food and wine. I mean, that sounds great.

Eric Kaufmann 22:05
Great food, great wine, for sure. Lots of laughter, lots of tears. I mean, people retiring, people getting divorced, you know, children being sick, COVID. You know, people selling their businesses, but, you know, lots of the depth of wisdom. And this is the thing about this crew, right? Are these really impressive, professional, successful humans that are really curious. Deeply curious.

Alana Muller 22:31
Super cool. Super cool. So I have to finish on just a fun note. And it's a question I love to ask my guests. And it is this: if you could meet with one person and go grab a cup of coffee, who would it be and why? And it can be anyone that can be living, not living fictional nonfictional, who would you want to grab a cup of coffee with?

Eric Kaufmann 22:51
Top of my list would be Phil Jackson, the famed basketball coach. He's like the winningest coach in the NBA, right? I mean, both with the Bulls and the Lakers. He's got all these rings on his fingers. He's got 10 fingers. Fortunately, he's got 10 rings. But you know, Phil is like a conscious leader, right? I mean, he understands how to motivate incredibly strong characters. He was brilliant in his coaching. And he brought in this really deep kind of spiritual vibe of the whole person. And, and it wasn't like, it wasn't tangential. It was central to the way he did his work, right? It was meditation. It was Zen principles. And, here's a guy who is the winningest,most famous NBA coach of all time, demonstrating that when you combine traditional forms of drills and training with this deeper perspective, you just get a better product. And I want to know way more about how he pulled that off.

Alana Muller 23:46
So cool. Yeah, nobody's ever said Phil Jackson. I have to say I lived in Chicago during the Michael Jordan years. So I have a great appreciation for Phil Jackson. So that's fun. Really fun. Well, Eric Kaufmann, it has been a profound privilege to have you on podcast. Thank you so much for joining us. Where can our listeners go to learn more about you and the amazing work that you do?

Eric Kaufmann 24:08
My website would be the easiest place. Sagatica, S-A-G-A-T-I-C-A, or LinkedIn. I mean, that's the world's market these days, right? I'm on LinkedIn. Eric Kaufmann.

Alana Muller 24:21
That's great. Well, it's so great to have you and I look forward to watching the way that you continue to develop conscious leaders. Thank you so much.

Eric Kaufmann 24:29
Thank you, Alana. Real pleasure, truly.

Alana Muller 24:32
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