Are you demanding in others what you can’t do yourself?

Zen Practice


The other day, a friend of mine asked for my advice about his troublesome subordinate. He told me that he is very upset with his subordinate because he doesn’t follow instructions, he only does what he is told to do, and he cannot even do that well. I bet there are many other people who have the same problem.

Many supervisors like him tend to unilaterally blame the poor quality of their subordinates on their lack of ability. However, simply blaming them does nothing to help his subordinates understand what they are doing wrong nor help them become the responsible workers of the future.


It is not easy to change other people behaviors just by verbal instructions or warnings. Zen persuades others by teaching from personal experience.

For example, the way Zen Priest Sengai showed his acolytes how to persuade from one’s own experience could be a good example for modern supervisors who have concerns about their subordinates.

    One night, some acolytes tried to escape from the temple to go have fun downtown. They used a stool to climb over the temple wall and left the temple.

    Finding that out, Zen Priest Sengai reflected on his poor ability as their master. He put the stool away, meditated there, and waited for the acolytes to come back.

    The monks came back after spending an enjoyable night out and tried to climb up the wall again, looking for the stool they had used when they left the temple. But as they could not find it there, they had to use something else for a stool instead. They put their feet on it and climbed down the wall.

    When they climbed down, they found that what they had thought was a stool turned out to be their master’s head! They earnestly apologized for their rudeness, but Zen Priest Sengai did not severely scold them. He blamed himself for his lack of leadership.

    After that, no one escaped from the temple to have fun downtown at night.


The method used by Zen Priest Sengai can be said to be the practice of the Zen Priest Rinzai’s saying, “reflect on yourself and take care (of others)”. This means that better results can be expected by introspection after silent admonition than by strict teaching and scolding.

When we encounter something we dislike or something, which does not go the way we want, let us first reflect on ourselves without grumbling about others and our surroundings. In particular, it is important for those in positions of leadership in the workplace to model not only with words but also by their behavior. Demanding or admonishing others for something we are not able to do has no persuasive power.

The reason subordinates do not work as directed by their superiors is because their superiors do not thoroughly convey their intentions to them. In a case like this, you yourself might show how your subordinates should work, then take time to talk to them, and lastly praise them. You will find better results doing it this way than by just warning them.

The following words are from Isoroku Yamamoto, Japanese Marshal Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet. These words surely will touch the hearts of people in positions of leadership.

    “Show them, tell them, have them do it, and then praise them, otherwise people won’t do anything.”