A Medium for Improving Emotional Intelligence & Leadership
Utilizing Experiential Training to improve Emotional Intelligence
What if we have star potential trapped in us just waiting to be released? What if our identities, our choices, and our destiny are shaped by our emotional experiences? What happens to those who have not had positive Emotional Intelligence learning experiences and what does life hold for them? What about people who already demonstrate leadership skills: can they grow their Emotional Intelligence even further and become even more effective? What can we do to unlock the potential that has been locked up in us? And what can we do to make sure all human beings become the shining stars that they are capable of being? What can we do to cut away the rough edges and find the diamonds that are in each and every one of us?
David, at age 18, was going nowhere fast. He spent his days working in a low-wage, dead-end service job in the hospitality industry. His intellectual training was low, only receiving a high school diploma, without the credentials of a college education. He did not feel he would do much better in his life and didn’t actually aspire to achieve much more. He was depressed; his self-esteem was low and getting lower as he turned to using alcohol and marijuana to fill the gaps in his life. His emotional life experience had been programmed: “why try” – life is a dead end for me. Recently, he was given the opportunity to experience a new high-impact Emotional Intelligence Growth training program (Adventures in Excellence) with dramatic results in his level of Emotional Intelligence.
Today at age 19, David has a very different life and experience of himself. Through the growth and healing he experienced as a result of that extraordinary training program in EI (Emotional Intelligence) he is now accepted and is performing as a corporate trainer in the same company that employed him as a service worker. He went from “no-life” to being motivated and moving up quickly in a matter of a few months. The change in David is obvious to all. His passion, joy, and high esteem for himself and others radiate from his being. He not only has higher functioning relationships with the people around him at work but also within his family unit. He shows up as a leader and has achieved many “firsts” in his new position. Others now look to him for guidance and coaching and he is in demand in other areas of the company where he works. Another significant outcome shows up in his control of his previous habit of self-medication using alcohol and “pot.” He now has the inner reserves of emotional high self-regard so that he no longer requires the mood altering substances to “feel good.” He can generate a high level of emotional “feel good” naturally. He can now manage his emotional state and inner sense of wellbeing.
David’s transformation in behavior can be attributed to the growth in his level of Emotional Intelligence. He is only one of hundreds who have experienced significant changes in their lives and their social/emotional functioning after going through the life altering Emotional Intelligence training taught and adapted by Johanne Edwards of Excellence Training LLC. The author is intrigued by the effectiveness of this training and seeks to understand and explain the results by:
A company’s performance is significantly affected by the level of its leader’s emotional competence” (Goleman). The behavior of those at the top can foster or suppress creative innovation, enhance or undermine performance, and build or destroy a positive climate that creates engaged employees and loyal customers. There are huge costs for leaders who try to operate solely out of intellect and reason, including lost trust, greater distance between managers and those that they manage, lost creativity, and lowered commitment and loyalty. If the greatest leaders have high emotional competency that contributes significantly to their success, is it possible to create experiences that improve both emotional competency and leadership skills?
Emotional Intelligence means making better use of the energy of our emotions, the wisdom of our intuition, and the power of connecting at a fundamental level. The latest neurological evidence shows that emotion is the “indispensable fuel” for the brain’s higher reasoning power. EI consists of the skills and abilities we need to operate in the world. On a basic level we need them to cope with stress and remain healthy, meet our emotional needs, connect with others and have successful interactions, learn and make decisions. In all areas of life we are called upon to use our skills of self-awareness, self-regulation, other-awareness, and our ability to manage relationships.
Emotional Intelligence combines short-term, tactical, and dynamic skills that can be brought into a situation as needed. The building blocks of Emotional Intelligence and its overall structure can be improved by means of training, coaching, and experience or practice (Stein).
One’s Emotional Intelligence is impacted by learning from emotional experiences, especially if we are learning in the context of interaction with another human being where we experience positive regard (Lewis et al). Our emotional habits of responding to our world as well as our skills are learned through experience and recorded in the limbic area of our brains. The stronger the emotion involved, the stronger the learning and the habit. If we are to change these emotional habits and skills it must happen through emotionally charged experiences with others. Such experiences allow us to know ourselves, know others, create new emotional inter-actionable habits, and create new positive choices for action.
Improving emotional competence is critical to excellent leadership and resides in engaging and growing the following areas:
What would it take to really, permanently raise Emotional Intelligence? Could we in essence re-work some of our earlier programming, lay down new neuro-pathways, and change who we are being? Could we become aware of who we are, what is most important to us, and then better align our actions with what we desire? We suggest that this is exactly what happens to participants in the Adventures in Excellence Training.
Most human behavior is determined by unconscious “programming” – our thinking, beliefs, attitudes, values, core desires, and decisions about who we are. This programming drives our emotional behavior. We can change our behavior over the short term, but unless we change the drivers of our behavior we always revert back to that path of least resistance.
In addition to the more permanent drivers such as personality, temperament, and core desires we have a set of rules or operating principles that come from our life experiences. These rules are well-established pathways in our limbic brains, established early in life through early highly charged emotional experiences. It is the high emotional charge that appears to create the strongest neuro-pathways, and therefore the deepest habitual groove, of responding and behaving. We tend to keep those learned principles to heart because they helped us survive our early negative emotionally charged experiences. It should be noted however, that they have become automatic responses that do not necessarily help us thrive as adults! In fact, because they seem so “right” they can persist even when they are destructive.
The neural connections are strong and the grooves deep so that behavior and emotions will have the tendency to continue to run along these pathways. They become our “template” for evaluating new experiences and opportunities for action. We use our templates or sets of beliefs to evaluate our current experience and make decisions for action. It is very hard to see and act on truly new opportunities in a new way using the old set of beliefs as our predetermined reality. If our original programming is established through highly emotional experiences, perhaps what it takes to get significant change is to recreate the high emotional charge with a different, more positive outcome. The reconstructed template should leave us more nearly whole, complete, and feeling our own value, and magnificence; we will be more able to trust in others and in ourselves.
The Adventures in Excellence program is designed to, and successfully does, provide an environment for the reconstruction of the early emotional template. In the training the environment necessary for transformational learning is created. Over an intense six days training, (2 three-day weekends with a month in between) participants are skillfully guided through a series of games and role plays that continually raise the bar of emotional involvement, intensity, awareness, and expression. All the criteria to make the reconstructive process possible are available during the course, all done in a setting of safety and security, such as:
Johanne Edwards has been teaching this type of intense empowering seminar since 1990. She speculates that there are only 120 trained facilitators in the country who can do this training in a form like the experiential style of her seminar, and there are only two that conduct it like Adventures in Excellence: Fred Lowder in Dallas, Texas is the second; Discovery Training LLC. Since 1990, Johanne has impacted lives and families of over 700 people.
The depth of transformation that people experience has been compared to 10 years of therapy. (Considering the cost of therapy bills these days this could represent a considerable savings!) The change in behavior, general mood, and wellbeing of the participants of the program is considerable. The changes have been long lasting. Participants seem to have tools and resources “on board” to be used to meet new challenges that they did not have before their Adventures experiences.
There are some remarkable examples of outcomes and life changes for participants of the Adventures training. The many changes can be connected to the increased emotional and social functioning of the participant as a result of the training. Some changes occur rather immediately like the experience of David who came away with a significantly improved sense of self-regard. His new choices significantly improved his work situation and career within a couple of months of finishing the training. For others the changes are subtle and take place over the following year as they integrate self-discoveries.
The best way to describe the program and its impact is in the words of participants. These comments are from recent as well as past graduates of the program:
In the Adventures in Excellence Training experience we help remove in a loving way that false mask that gets in the way of a leader’s authentic presence. The first step in this game is to help the participant discover the negative patterns of behavior they have adopted so that they can start to break away the mask that stops them from being that charismatic human being that they were born to be. Through gradual “aha” experiences that are orchestrated throughout the training, the participants re-discover their real authentic selves.
In the two weekends, a series of games are played and experienced by the participants. It is experiential training, not lecture or learning by rote. A facilitator leads these games, or exercises. The facilitator has no answers for the participants, only questions and coaching as they are guided to find their own answers. The bar of intensity and opportunity is raised with each exercise. The training assistants that lead the small group exercises utilize the same principles of self-learning as the seminar leader. The participants are met where they are at, not from the facilitator’s expectations.
In order to help the participants move through different emotional states, music is used and has been found to be an effective emotional therapeutic tool. A new appreciation for music and what we program our listening with is discovered. Outside of the training music can then be used to shift our mood. We teach that our negative emotions can be shifted instantly if we are willing to make new interpretations of our experiences and new choices.
Some of the first games played have to do with letting go of some judgments and old inner self-talk that is self-defeating, not only in our relationship with ourselves, but our relationships with others. As we discover where we are judgmental we can now have a new view and be less rigid. We have the space to become more accepting and are more willing to embrace diverse people and situations. This helps us grow in the area of adaptability and flexibility.
There is plenty of opportunity to build trusting relationships. “Unless I can come to know what is real about you – something of your life story, what you care about, what you stand for, what you feel as well as what you know – you do not exist for me beyond your name, job, title and appearance” (Cooper). The large group experience helps build and enlarge the sphere of trust within the group since it is more difficult to share how you truly feel with many than with a few. It is out of this sharing and exchange that people learn to create a background of relatedness and a place of understanding.
We provide the opportunity for honest feedback from the group members as relationships become more open. This is a very stressful and emotionally intense time during the training. The participants find it takes more courage to give a feedback critique than it does to receive one. Participants take some time to digest and assess the feedback. They try it on like a coat to see if it fits, and lo and behold an epiphany. Then, in that moment, a new opening for self-discovery and honesty occurs, a chance to see their own denied behavior.
This feedback is necessary in order for participants to break out of the behavioral patterns and blind spots that keep them stuck. Change is difficult for us all, but we cannot heal or change what we do not acknowledge. In order for us to alter our behaviors we must first get out of our denial and be willing to look at our blind spots and let down our masks. “Unless you own up to the ways you have been dishonest with yourself you will be looking in the wrong places” (McGraw).
Participants have an opportunity to look deep inside for that unknown potential. Through open discussion and interview, participants are gradually and effectively moved through their denial about how they create negative life experiences and close the door to loving relationships or fulfilling life experiences. They begin to see the drivers of their behavior for good and ill.
There are several occasions throughout the training for the participants to evaluate how they are behaving in relation to their agreements, commitments, accountabilities, and responsibilities. They learn what agreements they continually break, not just with others but also with themselves, and which ones they are good at keeping. They discover where they are out of integrity with their word and who they say they are. We are all dishonest, especially when we value peace and harmony over integrity. All the suffering that we create in our lives is the result of being out of integrity with our word and who we really are. It is out of this self-assessment of “who we are in the matter of our word” that we learn more about emotional honesty and integrity.
During the course there are moments of silence, reflection, journaling and meditation where participants can take a moment to stop the internal chatterbox. This gives us the chance to see how we are feeling and assess our emotional states. During these moments of silence our inner voice can be heard as well as our growing intuitive sense.
Ninety-five percent of all communications are non-verbal. That is why in the training we focus much of our attention on body language, making eye contact, and observing emotional shifts in others as well as ourselves. In the training there are games that focus on the areas of listening and observing. There are many opportunities to get up and share with the group, and sometimes this causes emotional stress (we all know by now that speaking in public is a greater fear than death for most adults). At the end of the training the participants are better communicators and are more understanding and appreciative of the non-verbal nuances. They can talk without prepared remarks and are better able to speak to a group and come from the heart. It is those speakers who can come from the heart who are the ones able to move the room emotionally. A leader who cannot connect to the hearts of his followers may find himself on a walk by himself.
The training sets up dramas where participants experience constructive discontent. Participants role-play stressful situations where they can observe how others and they themselves operate. There is a sense of urgency created in the game, and participants are given practice at being decisive, not being judged or punished for their decision, and moving through their fear. This instills in them willingness and a confidence to take the initiative in stressful situations outside of the seminar room. They also get to see how much anxiety they create on their own from their own expectations. After these games, participants are more comfortable with being uncomfortable and are more able to take risks to solve problems and get out of their own way. This process builds confidence and resilience.
A major aspect of the training is in understanding and managing our emotional states and triggers. Those trigger points are old wounds from the past and are relived when we feel the same old feelings. The two major emotional states that we address in the training are anger and guilt. Who are you angry with, and what do you feel guilty about? The Adventures experience captures those past moments, which in many cases have been unresolved for years. Participants have been stuck going around and around in the same feeling space, looking for a different outcome. Anger and Guilt are released and new pathways are created. With the release a new future, one not based on the past, is created. Participants are more willing to take risks and find they are not trapped by their feelings. They no longer feel the need to shut out how they feel. Many are able to be more assertive, express their feelings, and engage a personal power to solve life’s problems. They have a sense of their own authority.
At the end of the course many people have a major shift in wellbeing, general health, and mood as well as their energy levels and vitality. Participants have reported success in recovery from addictions such as smoking, drinking, drugs, and over-eating. They have also indicated lowered blood pressure, less stomach distress, reduction in body aches and pains including migraines, and being able to get off of anti-depressants and painkillers. Some say they are able to sleep at night. Others say they don’t need to sleep as much. Significant physical changes occur even in facial appearance.
Emotional Intelligence has been shown to be critical to success. There has been much written to describe it, but we have noticed a gap in the availability of education that brings about real and permanent change in EI. Since these skills are critical to success, having methods to grow and produce lasting change is essential. There have been many such change agents and processes in the past: psychotherapy, psychoactive medication, and self-help programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) to name a few, that can and do bring about dramatic transformation in the individual’s behavior. The downside of these methods is they generally take years to produce significant change. Cognitive and behavioral training have been helpful too, but have had more limited success in changing behavior. With all the EI training going on we wonder why it is that we don’t regularly achieve these results and why the efforts to improve emotional competencies so often fall short of our goals?
Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee in Primal Leadership establish that high Emotional Intelligence, particularly in leadership, is critical to organizational effectiveness. The challenge is to significantly improve the EI capabilities of leadership in a time frame that takes business reality into account. Most improvement models that we are aware of produce significant change over years, if ever. When business results depend on a leader’s ability to be clear about the vision and move people towards that vision, the more skillful a leader can be the better. What if the gaps could be addressed in a matter of months rather than years? What if all it took to move an organization or an individual toward excellence was the experience of love applied in a systematic fashion?
Robert Quinn points out in his book DEEP CHANGE that organizational transformation can only occur when there is deep personal transformation at the level of leadership. The leader with heart is the leader that captures the will and power of the people. Imagine the impact on an organization when its top management transforms their ability to be present, focuses on what is important for the organization, and is decisive while responding to the emotional heart of the organization. Adventures in Excellence presents intriguing possibilities for rapid organizational change and for leadership development from the inside out. Marry this training approach with the longer-term techniques of coaching and on-going support and there will definitely be a shift in a company’s ability to orchestrate change, build team performance and maximize individual performance. With all individuals radiating their diamond qualities there will be no end to the possibilities.
The Adventures in Excellence training is a significant break-through for Emotional Intelligence training. The course provides the environment that makes real and lasting change possible for anyone who is willing to take the journey into emotional self-exploration. We see the training as a significant resource for personal growth, and the potential application to organizational development is huge. We have only just begun to study the effectiveness of this model and we look forward to further study and especially helping many more people to wellbeing and success through this most effective EI training: Adventures in Excellence. We also hope that the reader will consider investigating this approach as well and be intrigued by the personal possibility of finding and polishing the diamonds that are within.
Cooper, Robert K., Ph.D. and Ayman Sawaf, Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organizations, New York, Berkley Publishing Group, 1997.
Goleman, Daniel, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Matters More than IQ, New York, Bantam, 1995.
Goleman, Daniel, Emotional Intelligence at Work, New York, Bantam, 1998.
Goleman, Daniel, Boyatzis, Richard and McKee, Annie, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, Boston, Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
Lewis, Thomas, M.D., Amini, Fari, M.D., and Lannon, Richard, M.D., A General Theory of Love, New York, Vintage Books, 2000
McGraw, Phillip C., Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters, New York, Hyperion Press, 1999.
Quinn, Robert, Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996.
Stein, Steven J., Ph.D., and Book, Howard, M.D., The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, Toronto, Canada, Multi-Health Systems, 2000.