In his 20s, Marc Lesser spent five years at Tassajara, the first Zen monastery in the Western world, located in the Los Padres wilderness in central California. He graduated from washing dishes to baking bread, to being assistant head cook. Eventually, Lesser spent a year as director of Tassajara.
“At 28, I found myself as the head cook — aspiring to practice and embody mindfulness and mindful leadership as I supervised up to 15 people in the daily preparation of meals for the center’s 70 residential students and the 70 to 80 overnight guests,” he writes in his new book, “Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader.”
Lesser is a CEO, Zen teacher and he lectures worldwide about mindfulness in leadership. He says connecting to your pain, the first and perhaps most important teaching of the historical Buddha, is essential. Leaders need to get in touch with their own deep sense of pain, vulnerability and humility to shift from being good leaders to becoming great leaders. “Connecting to pain, and a touch of humor, can help a good deal when making challenging decisions, since it helps us maintain perspective.”
Connecting with others’ pain is equally essential. “Empathy is a potent way to develop inner strength. If we don’t see the pain of others, or we refuse to acknowledge it, we won’t act to help them.”