The Story of Two Monks and The Power of Leadership Decisiveness

As an executive leadership coach, I sometimes use storytelling with my clients to make a point. Sometimes, the stories are more profound than any coaching or guiding I could do. Last week, one of my clients heard the story of two Zen Monks and it had a profound impact on his leadership.

The story goes as follows, there were two Zen monks who are on a journey together. As they are walking, they come to a river and see an elderly woman who is struggling to cross it by herself. The older monk takes the woman on his shoulders and carries her across the river, setting her down on the other side. The woman continues on her way and the monks continue on their journey.

After several miles, the older monk notices that the younger monk is troubled and asks him what’s wrong. The younger monk explains that, according to the tenets of their beliefs, they are not supposed to touch women and yet the older monk had carried the woman across the river. It was clear that the younger monk was very angry and couldn’t let it go. The older monk then said to the younger monk; “I left the woman at the riverside a long time ago, why are you still carrying her with you?”

You might be wondering why I told him this story, this story is important because it shows that leaders must be willing to make tough decisions and take bold actions. In the same stroke, they must learn to be decisive.

There are many situations in which leaders must be decisive in order to effectively guide and lead their followers. Here are some examples of when we need leadership decisiveness: 

When faced with a difficult decision or challenge: Leaders must be decisive and take action when situation are difficult or challenging. This could be a decision related to a business strategy, a change in company policy, or a response to a crisis.

When confronted with opposition or resistance from their followers: Leaders must be able to stand firm and take action when moving people forward. This could involve addressing concerns or objections from followers, or making difficult decisions that may not be popular with everyone.

When faced with a limited amount of time or resources: Leaders must be able to prioritize and make decisions about how to best use these resources to achieve the group’s goals. This could involve making tough choices about which projects or initiatives to pursue, or deciding how to allocate limited resources to different parts of the organization.

When faced with uncertainty or ambiguity: Leaders must be able to make informed decisions and take action based on the best information available when things are uncertain. This could involve making decisions based on incomplete information, or taking calculated risks in order to move the group forward.

When carrying baggage that’s infringing on the organization: Leaders need to be decisive and let go of their own “baggage” and focus on the present and future. This means they must be determined to let go of past events or experiences that may be holding them back, and instead, they must focus on the task at hand.

As leaders, we all have choices to make. Sometimes, these choices can be difficult and may go against what we want for ourselves as individuals. However, being decisive and taking bold action is often necessary for the success of the organization.

As leaders, we must be willing to do what is best for the company, even if it goes against our own personal interests. By being decisive and making difficult choices, we can show our followers that we are capable of making the tough decisions that are necessary to guide the organization forward.

Lead From Within: Leaders are bold, brave, and they know that being decisive isn’t always easy. But they rise to the occasion and make the tough choices that are necessary for the success for the greater good.


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What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

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