Zoe Meditations: On Leadership, Influence, & Being Present

Welcome to Zoe Meditations, where every week, I will summarize a few ideas that will help you live greater, love better and laugh more. (P.s. I’ve recently created an Ebook with a similar theme, for more info click here). Collected from various modern day philosophers, I believe that applying these ideas into your day to day life will make you a better person

This week we are going to talk a lot about leadership, influence, being present and more. If you find this email useful and know someone who would get a lot out of it, please forward it to them. If you’re receiving this from someone, you can sign up for the weekly newsletter here.

Let’s get started!

Extreme ownership: Something that all leaders need to keep in mind is that you are entirely responsible. It all comes down to you. Jocko Willink in his book Extreme Ownership explains that this responsibility is at the core of being an effective leader, that’s why he calls it extreme ownership – you really have to own the actions and outcomes of the team behind you.

This responsibility goes for any successes, and any failures, it’s not all about the good outcomes, you have to own it when things go wrong. Willink explains that in any organisation, the leader must face up and take all of the blame. The ability to acknowledge any failures, and own up to mistakes is a fundamental part of being an effective leader. You then need to establish a plan on how to fix any mistakes made. It’s all down to the leader.

But what about team members who went rogue, or in this case, disobeying your order?

Regardless, Willink stresses the importance that an effective leader will never blame their team. Part of extreme ownership is understanding that your team member’s actions are a reflection of your leadership. Leaders are required to ensure that their team is well informed, well practiced and able to perform as expected. Any issues from team members reflect on the leader, not on the member themselves. (Gosh, don’t you wish someone would read this book?)



Dominance Vs. Prestige:  According to psychologist Adam Grant in his book Give and Take, there are two fundamental paths to influence: dominance and prestige. When we establish dominance, we gain influence because others see us as strong, powerful, and authoritative. When we earn prestige, we become influential because others respect and admire us.

People who use dominance speak forcefully, raise their voices to assert their authority, express certainty to project confidence, promote their accomplishments, and sell with conviction and pride. However, according to Adam Grant using dominant is a poor influence method.

When our audiences are skeptical, the more we try to dominate them, the more they resist. Even with a receptive audience, dominance is a zero-sum game: the more power and authority I have, the less you have.

Conversely, prestige isn’t zero-sum; there’s no limit to the amount of respect and admiration that we can dole out. This means that prestige usually has more lasting value than dominance.

The question then is: how can we gain more prestige?

The answer is powerless communication.

Powerless communication is a communication method that is less assertive, expresses plenty of doubt, and relied heavily on others’ input. Powerless communicators talk in ways that signal vulnerability, reveal their weaknesses and use a lot of disclaimers, hedges, and hesitations.

For example, instead of laying down their ideas to the group and expecting them to adopt it, powerless leaders lay down their ideas and ask inputs from their subordinates, making sure that their ideas are ‘air-tight’ before making a decision.

This approach has three main benefits. 

Firstly, it keeps your subordinates engaged. 

Secondly, it encouraged others to take our perspectives. When we ask for advice, in order to give us a recommendation, advisers have to look at the problem or dilemma from our point of view.

Lastly, asking for advice creates commitment. When people give their time, energy, knowledge, or resources to help others, they strive to maintain a belief that the advice recipients are worthy and deserving of their help. Thus by asking for advice, you are getting your subordinates to commit to your overall idea, a win/win for your company in my opinion.

Being fully present: For the past few weeks, we have been talking a lot about being fully present and dealing with painful emotions. What hindered most people from being fully present is the way we see ourselves. 

Most of us see our self or “I” as a separate entity, we create various sentences with “I”” as the subject. Our sentences are about what has happened to this “I” or what might happen to it, or how these happenings might be analyzed or controlled—and all of this almost ceaseless mental activity entails a constant, uneasy evaluation of ourselves and others.

Out of such I-thinking, a peculiar value system grows. We tend to value only people or events which we hope will maintain or establish a safe and secure life for this “I.” We evaluate ourselves and develop various strategies to preserve the “I.”

But what if we can stop caring about this great “I” and just be? We will find stillness according to Zen author Charlotte Beck in her book Everyday Zen

So the next time you hear the sound of birds in your windowsill, remember that it’s not that “I” heard the birds, it’s just hearing the birds. 

Let yourself be seeing, hearing, thinking, and more importantly, living. That is what sitting is all about. 

It is the false “I” that interrupts the wonder with the constant desire to think about “I.” And all the while the wonder is occurring: the birds sing, the cars go by, the body sensations continue, the heart is beating—life is a second-by-second miracle, but dreaming our I-dreams we miss it.

The supply and demand of great work: If you want to be working on something that’s both rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return. The more experience you have, the more likely you will have a great career. According to author Cal Newport in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You:

The traits that define great work are rare and valuable.

Supply and demand says you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return.

These rare and valuable skills are your career capital.

The craftsman mindset (focusing on skill acquisition instead of following one’s passion) leads to acquiring career capital. 

The more career capital you have, the better your career will be. 

In my opinion, this is a better approach to work than the passion mindset that plagued most modern people. The passion mindset says that the reason you are not doing great work is because you don’t love your work enough. The craftsman mindset says the reason you are not doing great work is because your skill is not good or valuable enough. 

The passion mindset says that the reason why you are not having a great career is because you don’t have the courage to pursue the career you love. The craftsman mindset says that a great career is earned through rigorous skill acquisition process.

Curing human evil: In his book Happiness Hypothesis, psychologist Jonathan Haidt concluded that “the two biggest causes of evil are high self-esteem and moral idealism.

Threatened self-esteem accounts for a large portion of violence at the individual level, but to really get a mass atrocity going you need idealism—the belief that your violence is a means to a moral end.

How are we to deal with them? Unlike material goods, these two things- self esteem and idealism- only existed in a person’s mind. All of these are human creations which, though real in their own way, are not real in the way that gold and valuable objects are real. 

How then can we prevent human beings from committing evil? Here are some suggestion Jonathan Haidt gave:

1) See interaction with other people as a game and stop taking it so seriously when it goes sour.

2) Meditate! Meditation has been shown to make people calmer, less reactive to the ups and downs and petty provocations of life

3) Write down your thoughts, learn to recognize the distortions in your thoughts, and then think of a more appropriate thought. We carry with us a bunch of ‘should statements’—ideas about how the world should work, and about how people should treat us. Violations of these should statements are the major causes of anger and resentment. By writing down these should statements and finding the distortion between it and reality, we can adjust our expectation and be less pissed

4) Use empathy: In a conflict, look at the world from your opponent’s point of view, and you’ll see that she is not entirely crazy.

5) Think of a recent interpersonal conflict with someone you care about and then find one way in which your behavior was not exemplary. Maybe you did something insensitive (even if you had a right to do it), or hurtful (even if you meant well), or inconsistent with your principles (even though you can readily justify it). When you first catch sight of a fault in yourself, you’ll likely hear frantic arguments from your inner lawyer excusing you and blaming others, but try not to listen. You are on a mission to find at least one thing that you did wrong. When you extract a splinter it hurts, briefly, but then you feel relief, even pleasure. When you find a fault in yourself it will hurt, briefly, but if you keep going and acknowledge the fault, you are likely to be rewarded with a flash of pleasure that is mixed, oddly, with a hint of pride. It is the pleasure of taking responsibility for your own behavior. It is the feeling of honor.



The benefits of travel: According to author Mark Manson, travelling forces you to become more confident and independent in a million, tiny, unnoticeable ways that add up to a great, noticeable whole. The more difficult and exotic the culture, the more it challenges you, the more it engages you on an emotional level, and the more you grow in intangible and personal ways.

So do travel more. Choose a destination that has a very different culture from yours. Take some time to explore that countries’ particular cultures and seek to accept them as they are. 

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I'm a happiness blogger who writes about philosophy for living strong, loving unconditionally and laughing more.

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