The Empty Cup

Some people already know everything, and are more than happy to let you know it, even when they claim to be asking your opinion.

In the Zen Buddhist tradition, there is the parable of the tea cup that can help us from being one of those people.

A scholar from the west knocks on the door of a venerable zen master and announces, "I would like to learn from you."

The zen master invites him in and the scholar proceeds to tell the master everything he knows about zen. The master waits for his visitor to stop, but he just keeps going. In time, the master starts to prepare tea. He boils the water, puts the tea in the pot and waits for it to steep; he prepares the cups. All the while, the scholar talks.

The zen master begins to pour tea for his guest, slowly and carefully. When the tea reaches the brim, the master continues pouring and the tea runs down the side of the cup and across the table. The scholar leaps back to avoid the hot tea and says, "Stop! It's already full."

The zen master stops pouring, looks at the scholar and quietly says, "Your mind is like this cup; it is already full. You must first empty your cup if you want to taste my tea."

What Leaders Read; or, Management as a Liberal Art

It's always interesting when a recurring theme pops up in coaching sessions with different clients. In separate meetings over the past week, three senior vice presidents raised the topic of books and what books, or kinds of books, leaders should read. One also asked, "In your experience, are most senior leaders voracious readers? I get different answers when I talk to people."

I thought about it for a moment, and responded that not every senior leader I knew was a voracious reader, but the most successful among them were voraciously curious and they sought to expand their understanding of the world whenever possible. A broad base of knowledge about the world simply equips you to be better armed to address the challenges that come your way. 

Peter Drucker famously wrote that management
... deals with action and application; and its test is its results. This makes it a technology. But management also deals with people, their values, their growth and development—and this makes it a humanity…. Management is thus what tradition used to call a 'liberal art': 'liberal' because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership; 'art' because it is practice and application. Managers draw on all the knowledge and insights of the humanities and the social sciences—on psychology and philosophy, on economics and on history, on the physical sciences and on ethics. ("The New Realities")