Authentic connection in the corporate world

Interview with Kåre Landfald, founder and teacher of Zen Coaching conducted by Lidia D. Czarkowska, PhD for HR News, Poland.

February 2016

Lidia: Kåre, I’m really happy to be having this interview to talk about Zen Coaching, particularly Zen Coaching in management. You are working with companies in a bigger sense, and from your perspective what could Zen Coaching bring to the organisational world?

Kåre: First of all, let me say that the phrase ‘Zen Coaching’ may sound very esoteric, but ‘Zen’ basically means meditation, and meditation basically means presence, and presence means to be real. So it’s about being real. It’s about being present. It is not very esoteric at all. That’s the first thing that I would like to say. And coaching is really the modern way to do business and to do life. In the olden days when things were moving slowly, we had big systems. Then you could have top-down approach because you had systems in place and everybody followed, so you just needed to instruct. But now everything is moving fast and you can no longer just instruct. You have to build creativity and you have to build collaboration and you have to build motivation. All these things are happening in all modern companies. Coaching is the way to do that. Whether you call it coaching or not, you have to empower people; you have to find their inner motivation; and this – especially when coaching – you do with questions. I have seen many different kinds of organisations. Computer companies, construction companies, government agencies, international agencies, non-profit organisations. As I see it, for all of them it’s the simple and basic things that matter the most: that people get to know one another on a human dimension. I would say that this is the key. If you want people to perform in the long run and also be happy, which again helps them perform, number one is that they are well connected with each other in a positive way. That the whole human being is involved and included. So that is one thing that Zen Coaching can provide.

Lidia: So you talked about presence, being real and also allowing people to be creative and connected. And if a big organisation is looking for coaching, could Zen Coaching offer this?

Kåre:  Well, there are many ways to work with this and you don’t even have to call it ‘Zen Coaching’. Sometimes when I work in big companies, I don’t call it ‘Zen Coaching’. It’s more an attitude than a message. It’s an approach. But it’s really about authentic connection. How to create authentic connection. And there are simple ways to do this. For instance, in a meeting, – before you start talking about business, ask everyone to say a few words about how they are today, as a human being. Are you tired, are you happy, frustrated? Include the feelings. Include how people are in the moment. The whole being. Have everybody say a little bit – and that creates connection. And then start the business of the meeting. Contact, business, contact. In any business engagement, start with contact. Human contact. Then do business, and then end with contact. In Zen Coaching meetings or in any event, we have contact, business, contact. Now women are often better at this than men. Men are more about just doing. But women can also get caught up in the masculine approach mode of just doing and forgetting connection. I help companies and individuals to connect on a deeper level. And what happens is that people open up more. Their creativity opens up. They have more trust. More courage, more joy. When I work with team coaching for instance, we have a process over time on how to develop trust in the team. Creating a deeper understanding of the resources in the team, and also vulnerability. Because in business now, it’s getting more and more clear that we have to include vulnerability, and not just pretend that we are strong all the time. This is a fake strength. Strength and vulnerability go together.

Lidia: So it’s about embracing vulnerability together?

Kåre:  Yes, embracing the whole human. It actually makes us stronger. And again, modern companies know this. Old-fashioned companies will lag behind and they will loose because this is the new way of doing business. This is the best way of attracting the best people; the young people. This is the way of having good relationships with your clients and your customers, and the buyers of your services. That’s team coaching and leadership coaching. Also, there is individual coaching to release individual potential and also workshops for all employees. So just last week, I had a big workshop for over one hundred employees of a big computer company in Stockholm. I just read the feedback now, a half hour ago. And everybody is so happy to connect more deeply with their colleagues and see what a great company they have and what is possible, and how much skills they have. We did a number of different exercises for people to connect, for just half a day and the feedback is amazing – they love it. This is a computer company, and they realize that connection is important for them when it comes to doing good business.

Lidia: You mention, when speaking about this model, companies moving from having goals to having values. Is it a parallel to this approach?

Kåre:  Yes, values and goals go together. So often instead of speaking about values, I speak about purpose. What is your purpose? I always begin there. Why do you exist as a human being, or as an organisation? What is your contribution to the world?

When people are clear about their purpose, they have high motivation.

Lidia: So you start at the level of vision, mission and identity?

Kåre:  Yes. Vision, mission and identity. Absolutely!

Lidia: And service.

Kåre:   And it’s more than merely the corporate statements, it’s about what is alive for each individual. So it’s not just a document on the wall or in the reports, it’s about what people feel that we are contributing to the world in our company. Because in terms of values, there are some universal, human values.  And instead of defining these values, I think it’s more about becoming aware of these universal values that everybody has. Because if you scratch the surface, you discover that everybody values contributing to the world. Positive contribution.

Lidia: It’s what we do as co-creators.

Kåre: Yes, it is what we do as human beings. We love to contribute; we love to connect; we love realness; we love life, friendliness, kindness. We love creativity, we love joy. So regardless of how your company defines this, whatever words the company uses, chooses – it doesn’t matter so much. The main thing is that if the company values human qualities, this is the number 1. That’s why I say the ‘whole human being’. Is the company interested in nurturing the whole human being? Authenticity, openness, etc.

Lidia: And what if institution isn’t ready for that? What if organizational culture is not mature enough?

Kåre: I just lost a job that I was hired for in a Government organisation. They hired me to do a one-day workshop and then just last week they cancelled it. Because when the leadership group saw my program which was all about openness, honesty, values, etc., they got scared and cancelled the whole event! They were not ready for an event with these topics. The leadership in this organisation has not had this kind of discussion and so of course, they have a lot of conflicts in this organisation because the leadership is not taking human values seriously. They are afraid of them. They don’t know how to talk about them. So I would say that a coach can help groups have effective conversations about human values and the relevance of these in the organisation. Not so much about defining each one, but rather how to live human values inside of an organisation. Defining them is easy actually. It’s more about finding a way to talk about them and to make them real in every-day life.

Lidia: Being congruent and authentic. Amazing to hear!

Kåre:  Yes.

Lidia:  So you are saying that a company can realize this connection to the whole of humanity.

Kåre:  And of course it begins with your colleague.

Lidia: Yes, and then it gets bigger and bigger.

Kåre:  Exactly. So, of course, with any organisation you begin with where they are and then you bring them to the next level.  When I meet an organisation, I try to find out which level they are at. One organisation may be already in openness and authenticity and looking for the next level into deeper vulnerability and deeper authenticity. Another organisation on the other hand, has never had any talk about vulnerability or openness. Everybody is protective and defensive there.

Lidia: So fear is present in this kind of organizational culture?

Kåre:  Yes, it’s run by fear. So then we start by talking about fear, and just have that as a topic. Because in fear-based organisations nobody talks about fear.

Lidia: It’s taboo!

Kåre:  Yes, taboo! Everybody is feeling it but nobody is talking about it, and then the group loses. So we start by bringing awareness to how it is right now, without judgment. Truth will do the work, if we allow ourselves to see and feel it. Then something can start shifting, the group can loosen up, and new possibilities can be seen. Any organisation is ready for a next step of growth, it does not have to be a great leap. Awareness can happen in an instant, but growth takes time. That’s what is beautiful about coaching. We begin always where we are. And from there we open up to the next level of development.  So it’s not about jumping into becoming an awakened, enlightened organisation if you are a totally structured, fear-based organisation. It’s like any human being. There is a process involved. You have to do the steps. So that’s what I like about coaching, it’s not a fixed method, it’s open. It’s like, where are you guys now? What’s the reality, and where would you like to go? Which direction?

Lidia: And you mentioned about bringing awareness as a key step.

Kåre:  First bringing awareness to where you are. Where am I?

Lidia: And could you explain or define some kind of cornerstones or clear steps to bringing awareness or being present.

Kåre:  The cornerstone, number one, is exactly where you are. Finding out where you are in terms of facts, feelings, strengths etc. The truth about the present moment in terms of the human value chain. Satisfaction, fulfilment. Also money, structure, power, conflict, etc.

Lidia: The truth of the moment.

Kåre:  Yes, the truth of the moment. Then secondly, bringing awareness to the deeper purpose as we talked about earlier. Why are you here?  Both collectively and individually.  So in a leadership group, why are you here as a group?  But also for each individual – why are you here? What’s driving you? It’s about not being afraid to talk about that. People think it’s very personal, but it’s actually what connects the team. People are personal! Another key element is the intention. Intention, not so much in terms of how much money you want to make, or so on, but deeper intention in terms of what you want to contribute, but also how you want to work. How you want to live as an organisation. For instance, is this going to be done in a joyful way, or is it going to be done in a fearful way? It is about leadership having clarity on intention about the ‘how’, not only the ‘why’. What is the quality you want to live in your organisation. Generally, employees copy leaders. Whatever signals the leadership give, generally the organisation will copy. If the leadership values are openness and realness then it will be a happy organisation. So define those qualities. And then another key element is including emotions and physical feelings, the body. We tend to forget the body, and we tend to forget emotions in the workplace.  But when we do that it results in a loss of energy and motivation and clarity. Include the breath, the body and the emotions. This opens up for inner motivations. So maybe that’s an extra point. Find ways to release inner motivation. Not just external goals like salary, career path etc., but to release the inner motivations of the people. This is something coaching really contributes toward.

Lidia: So it’s about reality, purpose, intention, how and also the notion of providing a space for the physical and feelings, that will awaken inner motivation.

Kåre:  I think that inner motivation is a point in itself. What is driving you as an individual? It’s like I often ask people, how often were you asked at school by your teachers, what would you like to learn and why?  And most people answer “never”. I asked my 15 year old nephew this question. Modern schools in Norway have projects and all sorts of new technologies that I never had when I went to school. And I asked him, how often do your teachers ask you, what you would like to learn?  Never, ever, ever did a teacher ask this question. This tells us something about our society. We don’t focus on people’s inner motivation. I then asked my nephew, why do you go to school? To get good grades, he said. Now, I find that to be an unfortunate main reason to be in school, given that learning, from our basic human design, is a great joy for us, a basic need for human beings. It’s the same in business. We must dare to ask these direct questions. Like, why do you go to work in the morning? What’s the purpose? We don’t ask these obvious questions so much.

Lidia: Most people only ask themselves about it!

Kåre:  Yes, but do they really ask themselves about it?

Lidia: And if you could maybe offer three points of advice for HR specialists in a modern-based organisation?

Kåre:  Step 1 – focus on your own personal growth. The deeper you go inside yourself, the deeper you can support others. There’s a direct link. I work with people; I support people – so that means a big part of my work is to work on myself. That means that I spend a lot of time and money every day, every month, every year, on my own growth process. If I don’t do that, my capacity to support other people becomes diminished. So that’s number 1. Be selfishly focused on your own growth. Sometimes we forget to do this because we get so focused on supporting others. Second – spend plenty of time being curious about people’s inner driving force; the deepest motivation of each person. Practice listening and asking as much as possible.

Lidia: Be open, like a child.

Kåre:  Yes, be open like a child. We tend to go into telling and like I’m doing now, giving advice. Instead of being curious, open and asking questions. And not being afraid of the phrase, ‘I don’t know.’ Let’s find out together! Third point. Invite collaborative thinking in all situations. So it’s, like, what do you think? Do you have some ideas, any suggestions? And on the point about the driving force, ask questions like, ‘what do you long for, truly?’ ‘What’s your deepest purpose, really? What’s your deepest intention? Longing, Intention, Purpose? Use those words. So these are my three points.

Lidia: Do you have dreams or visions about the future of humanity?

Kåre:  My vision is of a world based on a win-win attitude in all situations; where people are self-connected with a deep place inside, a place inside where joyful collaboration with others is the natural way to be. I believe there is a goodness in the centre of all human beings, and a creative force that we can relax into. My ambition for the future of humanity is that people are doing that, that they are relaxing into themselves and when they relate they are not coming from competition, but from collaboration.  Win-win. So how to think, ‘we’, without compromising myself, but also not fighting or competing with you. We are all living on this same boat – planet earth – we can make the best of all situations. Everybody basically wants good for each other. So that’s my dream that we all live like that. Always looking for win-win in all situations, based on deep self-connection.

Lidia: It sounds like we are making space for co-creation.

Kåre:  Totally! It is all based on the inter-connectedness of everyone and the basic goodness within each of us.

Lidia: Did I forget anything important?

Kåre:  I think that is all. Thank you.

Lidia: Thank you.