We had the good fortune of connecting with Brooke Moran and Paul Tame and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brooke and Pau, how do you think about risk?
Risk has been the foundation of our collective and individual work for 25+ years. We’re risk nerds! Most commonly, people think about economic and physical risks, and the word “risk” tends to have a negative connotation. However, there are all manner of risks: emotional, intellectual, creative, spiritual, artistic, social, leadership, etc.; risks are also associated with gains and growth. Consider kids when they’re learning to walk: they risk falling each time they stand up, but without taking those risks, they’ll never develop the skill to walk, run, skip, or jump. Entrepreneurs risk losing their bank balances (and their homes, in some cases), as well as perhaps relationships and/or their reputations, but they also risk gaining money, social capital, the ability to use their businesses as a force for good, enhanced leadership skills, etc.
We’ve welcomed (calculated) risk over time. Examples for Paul include sailing with his brother in less-then-ideal conditions as kids, serving in the Australian Army, traveling to many countries where he couldn’t speak the language, and opening his heart to love after being raised by an abusive father and being told he was not enough. Examples for Brooke include taking on a significant leadership role in high school, traveling through the wilds of Patagonia for 75 days in college, shedding her mask of perfection, and conducting research on employee engagement and writing a book. All of these risks resulted in growth, but it doesn’t always go that way. Paul invested his life savings in a business, shared the vision, as well as nuts-and-bolts with a colleague in his industry, only to have that person undercut him and steal his clients; Paul wasn’t willing to compromise his value of paying staff a livable wage, so he folded the business. Brooke invested lots of money into a Harvard Business School Executive Education “Innovating for Sustainability” course in hopes that it would help her secure consulting work in the sustainability space. While she was able to delve into the nuances of sustainability, the credential never helped her secure a contract, leaving her to wonder if she should have invested her money differently. Because we both learned from these mistakes, we don’t consider them to be failures.
Studying education, as well as being educators / instructors / facilitators / consultants for so many years leaves us knowing that robust growth cannot happen without risk; it can’t happen in the comfort zone. So, every program Zen for Business designs invites participants out of their comfort zones and into their stretch zones – whether emotionally, intellectually, socially, in terms of leadership, sometimes physically, etc.
The word “Zen” in Zen for Business is focused on “being in the zone” or being in a “flow state” (out of the comfort zone) – the point at which someone is performing at their zenith and right at the edge of their abilities; it is a place of challenge where results are unknown, where there are risks. People often associate Zen states with adventure sports, or playing music, or perhaps acting…but it’s so rarely associated with work. We aim to change that. We spend so much of our time at work, we need to have higher expectations of finding Zen at work.
In addition to being business partners, we’re also life partners and professors – hence the nerdiness. Resilience is born from hardship and often hardship comes from taking risks. We’ve noticed a decline in students’ resilience over the last 10 years, so we’re putting extra energy into teaching our 13-year-old son about resilience and risk – real and perceived – as well as providing opportunities for him to take risks. In fact, we just picked him up from an Outward Bound course, where he took social, physical, leadership, emotional, and backcountry cooking risks. He stepped out of his comfort zone daily. Most risks resulted in growth and he’s still learning from those that didn’t work out.
Life would be dreadfully dull without risk. The beautiful thing about our work is that we can design myriad opportunities for participants to take risks and they can “choose their own adventure” – that is, choose the intensity of the risk and what kind. People need to feel both freedom and some semblance of control in taking risks, and we’re there to support them and elicit learning after the experience.
What should our readers know about your business?
Zen for Business’ purpose is to help elevate the effectiveness of purpose-driven individuals, teams, and organizations – that is, folks who want to create positive social, ecological, and / or economic change. We’re serious about using our business as a force for good, which is why we’ve pursued – and earned – B Corp Certification. In addition to providing coaching services, often in tandem with the Leadership Circle profile 360-degree assessment, we also custom design and facilitate culture and leadership development workshops, as well as service learning experiences. We put clients central to their learning because that’s how change occurs, which means they’re out of their seats, moving around, and engaging with one another. If you’re interested in being stationary and being lectured at, we’re not your people.
Because leadership is multi-faceted – including self- and lateral leadership, active followership, leading up, and designated leadership – we’re firm believers that all employees have opportunities to lead if they are given the tools to do so. While it’s not the norm across businesses – especially small to mediums sized ones – organizations that invest in culture and leadership development, and follow through with growth goals, reap the benefits. There is a 36% difference in business results between highly effective leaders and moderately effective leaders; the former doesn’t happen by chance. Personal and leadership development is hard work because it requires individuals, teams, and organizations to step out of their comfort zones, perhaps confront unhealthy workplace norms, have hard conversations, and, of course, risk failing, etc.. However, the hard work is worthwhile and results in more engaged and culturally-aligned employees, managers and directors. Becoming an effective leader is a career-long endeavor, and we relish being part of that process. We successfully deliver highly engaging, online and in-person 2-hour to multi-day engagements in a variety of locations across the US and internationally – whether online, under the cover of a roof, or in a natural, outdoor space.
We have been leading, educating, and facilitating (collectively) for over 50+ years. We’ve been really fortunate to work with some wonderful bosses and clients – as well as some horrid ones – and we’ve learned from both. Rather than continuing to deliver someone else’s content as contractors for other firms, several years ago, we created our own firm; we now draw from our deep wells of knowledge and experience to bring new content and means of engagement to life to elevate clients’ growth. We now choose with whom to work and deliver fun, challenging, and participant-centered programs. It has been really rewarding! Of course, it has also been challenging. Specifically, we hired folks to help with marketing and accounting, as we’re completely hopeless in those areas!
One of the highlights for Zen, and folks we contracted to help with the delivery, was custom designing and 1.5-day culture and leadership development program for 90 managers and directors of a Certified B Corp ski resort. We created purpose-centered, engaging activities focused on topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, streamlining communication throughout all levels of the corporation, identifying behaviors that would elevate cultural effectiveness, problem solving across multiple departments, etc. This was the first time in 20+ years that an outside organization was brought in to be the main facilitator of their annual Leadership Summit. We were told that there were a few crusty, old guys who would sit in the corner, disengaged. When the CEO introduced us, he said something to the effect of, “We’ve never brought in an outside entity to help with the Summit; we’re hoping it’ll work.” It wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence. On day two of the Summit, HR folks told us that a handful of non-managers and directors were trying to sneak into the training because they heard such great things from their colleagues! At the end of the program, one of the crusty old guys said, “I’ve been going to these things for over 20 years and they have sucked; this was fantastic! I actually leaned a lot.” The CEO helped us carry gear to our car and would barely let us leave; he kept wanting to talk about what we did. Later in the day, he requested a synopsis of our program, so he could bring it to his Board. A year and a half later, an HR employee attended an employee engagement workshop with Brooke, and she reported that engagement and morale – even during COVID – was the best it had ever been, and they attributed much of that success to the program designed and facilitated by Zen for Business. Working with purpose-driven clients is a dream!
We are fortunate to be able to work in academia, as well as have our consulting firm, facilitating interactive programs with positive folks, who want to be challenged in the pursuits of growth. We have diverse and complimentary personal and professional backgrounds, which allow us to deliver unique and powerful programs. Individually or together, we have: worked with Australian prisoners and Fortunate 100 and 500 C-Suite executives on multiple continents; facilitated leadership development on glaciers; earned a degree at Harvard; published thought leadership on employee engagement, purpose, leadership, resilience, and sustainability; served in the Australian Defense Forces; taught at several universities; and designed and facilitated programs for non-profits, government agencies, and corporations, including Certified B Corps.
While managing multiple client deliveries, running a business, teaching courses at Western Colorado University, and raising and adventuring with our son may sound like a lot (and it can be), we are intentional about our work-hard, play-hard value. We love the work and partnering with organizations that are making positive change in their organizations, communities, and in the marketplace. We are passionate about where we live, service, adventure, those with whom we work, and the positive change we help facilitate in clients – all the while having fun and taking growth-producing risks.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
We’re adventuring, mountain people, so a visit with us would entail mountain biking at Hartman Rocks in Gunnison and in Crested Butte, floating or fishing on the Gunnison River, perhaps the via ferrata in Ouray, and a BBQ in the back yard with local ingredients and/or supporting Certified B Corps (Montanya Distillers in Crested Butte being one of them). Of course, mountain biking and hiking through the wildflowers are not to be missed in July and Crested Butte Mountain Resort is a hoot in the winter!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Lisa Holland – founder of Zen Books and co-founder of Zen for Business. Now focusing her efforts on Zen for Life.
Also: Brene Brown; Action Learning Associates; Leadership Circle; heaps of educators, colleagues, and students; etc.
Eric Phillips Main photo submitted