Achieve Excellence with Lessons from Stoicism, featuring Massimo Pigliucci

Today I am interviewing Eric Kaufmann. I asked Eric on the show to discuss his book Leadership as a Hero’s Journey – The Four Virtues for Transforming Uncertainty and Anxiety into Results and to share practical ideas and tools that deepen a leader’s ability to be efficient, effective and deliberate; a leader whom people are drawn to follow.

Eric Kaufmann


Eric’s journey contains 13 years of leadership consulting, management at Fortune 100 firms, degrees in business and psychology and a quarter century of Zen practice. He has also given a TED talk called Transformation Myths and Legends.

I am so glad to have Eric on the show because he gives a massively important message to us regarding ‘comfort’. As a leader you must explore your comforts with personal relationships, business relationships, and the results you are getting in every area of your life.

Are you ‘leaning into’ the problems and discomforts in your business and personal life? Or are you running away from or avoiding them?

The Western World can make us soft as men and women because we get mesmerized by external ‘things’ and ‘results’ and we forget that our results could be better if we got the INSIDE right first and this would drive the external results we so crave.

In my conversation with Eric we explore his work with Executives who are tackling their lives as a Hero would.

The Hero’s Journey (as popularized by Joseph Campbell) has three parts:

  1. Leaving the familiar in order to seek a valuable prize
  2. Encountering challenges and risks that demand personal sacrifices
  3. Sharing and teaching what you learn back with fellow men and women

The Hero’s journey as Eric describes it takes enormous courage and the resilience to deal with fear, discomfort, and uncertainty in new ways that you may not have considered before.

The segments of the modern day hero are developed in the following areas:

  • Focus – What are you creating?
  • Courage – What are you avoiding?
  • Grit – How do you sustain in the face of discouragement and fatigue?
  • Faith – What are you yielding to versus remaining rigid?

Please enjoy my conversation with visionary thought leader and executive coach Eric Kaufmann. There are additional resources and summarized show notes below.

Leadership as a Hero's Journey by Eric Kaufmann


Leadership as a Hero’s Journey: 4 Virtues for Transforming Uncertainty and Anxiety into Results


3 steps toward Leadership as a Hero’s Journey

Your FEAR and How it Manifests in your Behavior

Why Great Leaders Break the Rules

Leadership begins at the end of YOUR comfort zone

Motivation is a Drug

Keynote Speaker Video

Introduction to Sagatica Consulting

TEDx Talk Transformation Myths and Method


Motivation – A Drug for Lazy Leaders

What EXACTLY is Coaching?

Eric’s Recommended Books

How to Meditate

Full Catastrophe Living

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday life

Getting in touch with Eric



Summarized Show Notes:

  • How do you answer the question of what do you do for work 00:29
  • Works 1:1 with executives, 1 to few, facilitate leadership groups, 1 to Many – Leadership development training. [04:27]
  • Eric’s book titled Leadership as a Hero’s Journey: 4 Virtues for Transforming Uncertainty and Anxiety into Results. It uses the metaphor of a hero’s journey – what was the origin of the title of the book? [05:30]
  • Joseph Campbell’s influence – what is common to all human beings, and fundamentally true to all human beings across the globe, the power of myth, the [05:50]
  • MONOMYTH – the singular structure of a story that informs all stories and the hero’s journey as the underlying narrative of the story. [06:06]
  • How do you introduce this concept of a journey of life, from a business point of view? [7:20]
  • Joseph Campbell introduced 10 phases to the story but Eric focuses on three basic components [07:44]
  • We live in a different world and we don’t need to be a traditional hero. How do you translate being a hero in a modern day world into something you can grasp? [09:44]
  • When people think of a “Hero” it’s almost always is Superman or Batman. This is not right. Hero is an Ordinary Human being that has to face the challenge, fear and uncertainty and adapt. [10:16]
  • Brains and bodies were not trained to handle discomfort – natural aversion to discomfort. [11:59]
  • We have really lowered our competence to replace comfort with safety. [13:01]
  • We have to realize that there are going to be discomforts and one of the greatest contributions we can make, is to be graceful and present in the face of discomfort because it opens the door to being exploratory. Discomfort of being wrong, rejected and ignored – learning to reside in that with grace is a superhuman power [13:58]
  • Eric’s definition of courage is defined as walking towards what you would rather run away from. Embracing it rather than rejecting it. [19:07]
  • Why is “what are you are creating?” an important question? [19:50]
  • No organization doesn’t have an emphasis on planning and strategy. We should have a focal point – something that gives meaning to our struggles and strife. We recognize at the organizational level that there is meaning to the struggle. Goals, objectives and strategy are therefore set. But if you don’t realize that you do this on a personal level then you are mistaken. [22:20]
  • Always creating something and engaged in a goal pursuit, whether consciously and unconsciously. But what are the unspoken goals and objectives that we have in our head. [23:30]
  • From a point of safety – you are operating from an operational rather than strategic side of business. [25:10]
  • What am I avoiding? Specific career objectives and other domains in their life. With courage, would you apply “What am I avoiding” to all domains? [27:10]
  • Practically impossible to navigate the journey of leadership without consistently staring into the taunting face of failure. The voice of failure is huge. [28:19]
  • Example of a Marketing vs. Sales meeting in which this grip of fear was getting in their way – using data to hide the fact that they were anxious and scared, rather than working together, working against one another. Had to get underneath that mask of professionalism to discover what was really going on [29:49]
  • Fearlessness is a marketing ploy. Fear is built into the physical structure of our brain. Fearlessness is not the objective. Fear is the physical reaction to the perception of threat. Fear is the underlying chassis of our brain. [30:58]
  • The issue is cultivating courage. The ability to walk towards what you are afraid of. Embracing it, naming it and moving towards it. [31:47]
  • How would you coach business leader’s that want to start looking at mindfulness and meditation [33:20]
  • Eric started a formal meditation practice in 1986. Also goes to silence retreats twice a year. How is it effective for a leader? The point of meditation is to sharpen the mind and to broaden the heart. [34:07]
  • If you are a leader and you can develop the ability to pay attention to something, on purpose, without judgment. This is a powerful contribution as a leader to have that amount of clarity and speed of decision. Competitive advantage. [35:47]
  • Individually tackling stilling and sharpening the mind. [37:06]
  • Thirteen seconds is the span of time that most people would take two full deep breaths. In that span you can pause. Create a space between the stimulus and the response. Rather than being at the animal level of reaction you become at the human level of analysis and application. Pause long enough to bring back your conscious self [37:21]
  • If you want to cultivate that more skilfully – do it for ten minutes, and just observe the nature of your breath. It sounds simple, and the ability to be still and observe your breath – it teaches the mind and the body to be attentive on purpose. Imagine if you go into a meeting and you can sit and be more attentive. [40:15]
  • Literally a chemical and neurological shift that happens for people who do this consistently. [41:16]
  • What you want from leaders is knowing that they are bringing their best self. [41:39]
  • Concept of the observer – a small version of you dispassionately noticing what’s going on. Can access this almost like a bodycam, it is recording without emotion, just picking up the data. We can access that. It takes practice but it’s immediately accessible. It’s not as dramatically dimensional as my emotional self. Better decisions arise from that. This can be activated through meditation. [43:29]

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Bill Murphy is a world-renowned IT Security Expert dedicated to your success as an IT business leader. 

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