This is one of my favorite Buddhist stories because the ending might be interpreted in many different ways.
One day, two Buddhist monks, one young and one elderly, were returning to their monastery in silence. It had been a long trip and each was tired and caught up in their thoughts. Listening to their thoughts, watching each step and witnessing everything, they came upon a rushing river. As they approached the river, they noticed there was no boatman to carry them across. There was a young woman also waiting for the boat man to cross the river. The two monks decided to cross the river since it would soon be dark.
On the bank, the young woman was hesitating and asked the younger of the two monks for help. He exclaimed, “Don't you see that I am a monk? I took a vow of chastity!”
“I require nothing from you that could impede your vow. I am only asking you to help me to cross the river,” replied the young woman. “I cannot help you,” responded the monk.
'It doesn't matter,” said the elderly monk. “Climb onto my back and we will cross together.”
Having reached the other side of the river, the elderly monk put down the young woman who, in return, thanked him graciously. She left his side and both monks continued their route in silence. Close to the monastery, the young monk could not stand it anymore and said to the elderly monk, “How could you carry that woman on your back. It's against our rules. Someone else could have helped her across the river.”
"What woman?" the elderly monk inquired groggily.
"Don't you even remember? That woman you carried across the river," the young monk replied incredulously.
"Oh, her," laughed the sleepy monk. "I only carried her across the river. You have carried her all the way back to the monastery."
I am always thinking about “what am I still carrying around in my head?” that is getting in my way of achieving a goal or changing a certain behavior. Are there rules that I have made up or have inherited from some authority figure? Or, are there certain taboos enforced by a community that I associate with and I feel the need to conform? Maybe, I have made certain assumptions and not bothered to challenge myself? As a matter of fact, I don’t even recognize them for what they are…assumptions!
Unfortunately, all of us have some of the “young monk” in us. Consequently, by clinging to outdated rules, undermining habits of thinking, or unexamined beliefs, we are less effective as leaders or managers. Why? Because these rules, thinking habits, and beliefs directly influence our behaviors and may impact others in a negative way. For example, we can easily curb the enthusiasm for innovation or creative thinking of employees by responding to new ideas with “it's against our rules.”
We need to become more self-aware of our thinking habits and beliefs. Self-awareness is a key component our increasing our personal competence. It helps us to stay on the top of our typical reactions to specific situations, challenges, and people. Increasing our self-awareness is not about lying on the couch and pondering our unconscious or the deep, dark secrets of our childhood. Rather, “it comes from a straightforward and honest understanding of what makes us tick.” And what can we do to increase your self-awareness?
The most important first step is feedback. There are many strategies for getting feedback from peers, employees, supervisor and even our family. We need to decrease our blind side by increasing our knowledge about how our behavior impacts others. The second step is turning this feedback into a realistic plan for personal change. This includes identifying all the competing interests for not changing as well as what we stand to gain from the change. Many of us have a difficult time doing all of this work by our self so the third step is getting a coach to help with your journey. A coach can help us to with identify goals and actions for a personal change plan. Many organizations do not blink an eye about bringing in an organizational effectiveness consultant to help them with strategic and action planning as well as strategy implementation. The coach helps at the individual level.
As leaders, it is imperative that we don’t allow the “young monk” inside of us to sabotage our ability to positively influence others to help make changes. However, we have to be willing and ready to make some personal changes and sometimes that is the hardest beginning of the change process. And remember, not all who wander are not lost!