The great, ancient Eastern philosophers and thinkers often talk of something that I will label “The Middle Way.” You may wonder what this phrase has to do with executive coaching and entrepreneurial leadership. Here at VIM Executive Coaching, we find that understanding “The Middle Way,” is not an olden way of thinking of the world at all, but is absolutely relevant in today’s workplace.
An example, perhaps a bit simplified, is the case of a new senior manager assigned to a large department. As the old manager was leaving, she confided to the new manager, “Watch so-and-so, I just don’t trust his work.” The new senior manager takes over and soon there is a disagreement between two of the managers over a project. As luck would have it, one of the two having the disagreement is the employee she was warned about.
There was an automatic bias in place before the meeting with the two employees. The new manager has been warned about one of the employees, that his work can’t be trusted. Therefore, there might be a tendency to begin the meeting by automatically discounting anything that employee might say.
How many times in the workplace are automatic biases in place? Probably more than many managers might want to admit. Gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, race, religion, background, even school have all played a part in bias. Whole laws and enforcement of those laws have been put into place to help safeguard against bias. However, much more subtle forms of bias exist for which laws are difficult to enforce such as one manager telling another, “don’t trust their work.”
The better managers, the more mindful managers should always come from a position of neutrality, the Middle Way. In being mindful of a situation, it implies that the manager will carefully listen to all viewpoints, without regard to bias. It is why VIM Executive Coaching likes the concept of teaching executives the practice of mindfulness meditation, to clear the mind of bias and shading and to focus on the present and what needs to be accomplished.
In practice, the senior manager should respond and not react to the things being said, or demonstrated or reviewed. By being neutral and maintaining the Middle Way, it may well turn out that the “untrustworthy” employee may, in fact, be in the right or presents a much more logical argument.
This brings us to an important in this discussion of bias. We have no idea as to the biases of the old manager. Was the old manager intentionally inflicting a bias on the new manager? This could have been for any number of reasons. The important point is that the mindful manager must be aware that all information received is subject to interpretation. In executive coaching, whether we are working with executive leaders or entrepreneurs, we must always be aware of the forces that pull us “left” or “right” off of our paths.
In this example, we have no way of knowing what the old manager’s agenda may have been. Was the old manager too afraid to confront the employee? Was the old manager desirous of giving the employee a bad reputation or getting in a “last minute swipe?” We don’t know the answer to that either.
The Middle Way is the mindful way. It does not pre-judge, it is without bias. In today’s world, the Middle Way could not be more important.