Jeff Balin On "Big-A Agendas," Values, and Buddhist Thought
VO: And coaching helps people identify that thing?
BALIN: It does a great job at uncovering this.
VO: So someone might come with a small agenda and coaching would unearth the big agenda that is nagging for attention, even if subconsciously?
BALIN: Coaching gets them to articulate the big agenda stuff and by that I mean values. Values aren’t ethics or morality. They’re simply what people value—in themselves and in the world. I try to ensure that people are making decisions guided by the navigational points of what means the most to them. Ultimately when people do realize success based on their values then, it’s success with meaning and it’s success that’s strategically sound and sustainable. They’re going to have energy and enthusiasm for their vision and the logic of it will show itself as well. It builds on your most powerful skill sets. It’s just smart.
There’s a part of me that gets a kick out of this approach because it is so humanistic and meaningful, yet it proves to be the most strategic approach to business and leadership. When you look at great companies and leaders, that’s what they’ve done. Ones that have endured, that’s how they’re operating.
VO: What about companies like Haliburton, or GE. They’ve been around a long time, but are they really based on a core set of positive values?
BALIN: That’s a really good question. I think if you look at what an organization's core values were when they first started you’re going to find some powerful stuff. In 1900, Henry Ford’s vision for the car was to see “God’s great open spaces” and to “democratize the automobile for everyone.” It wasn’t just to crank out more cars and make more money.
VO: There are a lot of companies that have been around for a long time who aren’t doing great stuff and people who are at the top who haven’t done much good…
BALIN: This may come from my Buddhist teachings and nearly seven years of coaching where I’ve seen into the hearts and minds of many people, but I believe that when you get to the core of who people are it’s good. It’s not about what their company is doing or not going. I’ve seen a lot of well-intended organizations in the for-profit and non-profit arena that are toxic and destroying each other and wanting to destroy their opponent. Even on teams I consult with the challenge is often helping them not see their own teammates as the enemy. My belief is that in our society in general, and in the workplace in particular, individuals are not often given the permission to be who they are and more importantly find out who they are. If you really look at it, the people in business are operating on a very surface level of first reactions and defensiveness: peer pressure, status pressure, and in the nonprofit world, martyr pressure, legacy pressure. This doesn’t always allow people’s real self to emerge.
What I love about coaching is it uncovers that top layer of articulation of who you really are. Values do that really well. Now we can design strategies and next steps based on those values. To me that’s very powerful.
VO: When did you start on your spiritual path and how does that inform what you do?
BALIN: It informs everything I do. I started officially in 1996 when my wife and I went to work on a Tibetan Refugee settlement in Nepal and I was reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. We were living in a Tibetan community where the most prominent building in the refugee settlement was this huge, beautiful monastery that had dozens of monks in it. I befriended a few of them and became very close friends with one. All of the circumstances came together to have me start on the path of formally being a Buddhist and studying Tibetan Buddhism.
VO: Who did you study with?
BALIN: Mostly with Sogyal Rinpoche, who is the author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and the head of Rigpa, an international network of Buddhist centres. I studied his teachings through a local centre that I had gone to regularly and became a facilitator there. I’ve also studied extensively with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, another great teacher who is internationally renowned and has a retreat centre near Whistler called Sea to Sky Retreat Centre.