Mindful Command: Zen wisdom from the Royal Navy

Written by Sally-Anne Airey Tuesday 31 October 2023
Sally-Anne Airey had a 23-year career in the Royal Navy, becoming its first serving mother and a Commander. But it was an encounter with a Zen Master that helped her towards a holistic foundation for courageous and compassionate leadership
Image of Sally-Anne Airey on a mountain walk

Skilful leadership is an inside-out affair. First, it’s about who we are as people. Then it’s about how we impact others, engaging them to get the right things done in such a way that everyone flourishes.

This first struck me nearly 10 years ago, on a three-week retreat led by the late Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh. One morning, he diverted from the scheduled teaching to give his response to a growing concern within the mindfulness community – that mindfulness had no place in the Armed Forces, nor within multinational corporate organisations.

Why, some argued, would you want to help someone kill more people or exploit others to make more money?

“Mindfulness is not a tool,” Thich Nhat Hanh replied. “It’s the Way.”

In mindfulness meditation, we sit with whatever feelings arise, whether that’s pain, boredom, joy or restlessness. This is a practice. And so is leadership.

Skilful leaders have the capacity to quieten all other voices in their head and speak only from their own true voice. They are aware, clear, grounded, stable, and not afraid to speak and act for what is right. And when they speak, people listen. 

Want to learn more how to combine a mindful and military approach?


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