Holistic Leadership Development: Four Common Internal Barriers that Hurt Relationships and Hinder Efficacy (and Ways to Transform Them)

Most leaders, especially those of us interested in contributing to the “Great Transition” desire to be in “right relationship” with our family, friends, loved ones, coworkers, and hopefully, the entire Earth Community. However, many of us may find that as simple as it sounds, it is not always easy to consistently actualize. Furthermore, many of us may find that WE are our biggest obstacles! In other words, unconscious internal barriers may be hurting our relationships and hindering our capacity to fulfill our deepest desires to contribute to a better world.

These internal barriers or scripts are unconscious feeling-sensation-thought-action loops that can be activated by difficult people or circumstances (i.e., triggers). Bodily sensations and emotional responses to “triggers” happen much faster than mental responses or thoughts. In such difficult circumstances, our thoughts tend to lag behind our bodily sensations and emotional responses, and we are in danger of slipping into “automatic pilot” with our thoughts racing to catch up with justifications.

While these habitual patterns differ, there are four common scripts that leaders may recognize:

  • self-absorption,
  • fault-finding,
  • parental-childlike patterns, and
  • overidentification with ego defense

Self-absorption is an internal pattern with full attention on ME as THE reference point. Thus, my desires, thoughts, feelings, wants, comforts, etc., are all that matter. And, in this state, I will say and do anything that satisfies ME and my wants. I imagine most of us realize (when not stuck in autopilot) how destructive and hurtful this pattern can be in our lives. We can contrast this self-absorption pattern with the more desirable and helpful pattern of seeing oneself as A reference point while also considering the wants and needs of others and our world.

Fault-finding or critical mind is an internal pattern that places full attention on the faults or shortcomings of a person, place, circumstance, or space. Again, I imagine most of us can see the potential for unproductive and destructive outcomes of this script. A constructive alternative to this seductive pattern is the practice of “seeing the good” in a person, circumstance or space. This is similar to the practice of Appreciate Inquiry (link) at group and organizational levels.

Parental and childlike states arise from collective memories or permanent recordings of unprocessed life experiences primarily from one to five years of age. The parental state is often recognizable by absolutes of “should,” “ought,” “must,” “never,” and “always.” While our childlike state is often recognizable by strong feelings of both delight and despair. While there can be positive expressions of these both states and styles, Adult: Adult relationships are the aim in many professional environments (for more on this topic, please see my essay, “Using Transactional Analysis for Self-Awareness and Self-Management”).

An ego defense pattern typically arises out of an overidentification with a cherished self-identity associated with a belief, personality, role, or demographic (e.g., race, gender or political affiliation). Indications of being in a state of overidentification include feelings of defensiveness, anger, resentment, self-pity, and self-indignation.

The good news about these unhelpful and potentially hurtful internal patterns is that thanks to the neuroplasticity of our brains, we can reprogram them with constructive alternatives using practices such as the five Rs!

The five Rs to reprogram internal barriers that can hurt relationships and hinder efficacy are–recognizing, refraining, releasing, reorienting, and replacing.

  • Recognizing: Recognize your internal signals of a trigger person or event which may include a tightening sensation in and around the heart or stomach, an increase in heart rate, or a rush of bodily heat.
  • Refraining: Refrain from speaking or acting. Allow your internal signals to be while you mentally note them with compassion and nonjudgment.
  • Releasing: Release the energy or charge with a few deep breaths while you gently shift your attention to your hands or feet. If on your hands, gently open and close them while you take your deep breaths. If on your feet, gently press them into the floor as take your deep breaths. If you can take a walk, do so while placing light attention on your feet as they make contact with the ground.
  • Reorienting: Reorient your intention and attention on something or someone constructive and centering. This may be an affirmation, mantra, or value statement (e.g., May love guide me.)
  • Replacing: Replace an automatic reaction with a constructive response.

However, as many of us well know (I sure do!), in a difficult moment or exchange, the Five Rs or any other tool for more constructive relating is frequently overtaken by the force of long-standing habitual patterns (i.e., the amygdala response). Thus, for this type of inner development, it is imperative to integrate highly supportive or “transformative” practices into one’s life such as concentration and mindfulness meditation . Over time, these meditation techniques help cultivate the inner witness or observer self. They also help calm the typical human “monkey mind” such that inner mental space starts to grow and offer the practitioner more time to activate the Five Rs and begin dismantling our internal barriers to right-relationship and personal efficacy.  

Call for Spiritual Entrepreneurs

If you have a regular psycho-spiritual practice that informs and fuels your entrepreneurship and those efforts are for or toward a common good, I’d greatly appreciate hearing your story and potentially using it for my next book, Spiritual entrepreneurs: Transforming ourselves, transforming our world. Please email me at denise.frizzell@dafrizzell.com with a brief bio to include information about your spiritual practice and your work.

Reflections on the Universal Love of Christ, Christmas 2019

Have you ever read or listened to someone present a theory, conceptual framework, or some other school of thought for the first time and felt completed disoriented by it on the one hand and at the same time experienced an inner pull of  “YES! YES!” on the other hand?

The Hubble Space Telescope’s latest image of the star V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon) reveals dramatic changes in the illumination of surrounding dusty cloud structures. The effect, called a light echo, has been unveiling never-before-seen dust patterns ever since the star suddenly brightened for several weeks in early 2002.

Well that is how I felt the first time I encountered the school of thought referred to as evolutionary spirituality or conscious evolution. I believe it was in 1998 when I discovered the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).

Teilhard de Chardin, a pioneer and primary source of evolutionary spirituality overall, was a philosopher, Jesuit priest,  paleontologist and geologist whose theological and philosophical work was way ahead of his time such that his ideas were perceived as a threat to the Catholic establishment. Thus, these writings were suppressed during his lifetime.

The core idea of evolutionary spirituality/conscious evolution is that we live in an unfinished universe and its ongoing development toward Universal Love depends on us and our willingness to actively participate in the evolution of consciousness in/through our lives lived in the world.

In 1998 and now, this work lights me up—it opens my mind and expands my heart! In fact, whenever I’m in a state of despair, I turn to Teilhard’s work but more often contemporary teachers of evolutionary spirituality such as Barbara Marx Hubbard, Michael Dowd, and Brian Swimme.  And, most recently to Franciscan friar, spiritual teacher, and author, Richard Rohr’s book, “Universal Christ.”

Thus, as we approach Christmas 2019, I’d like to highlight a few core ideas from Rohr’s book, offer a brief sample of his supportive teachings then share a few of my reflections.

But before I do, I would like to acknowledge that some of you may have instantaneous aversion to the words, “Christ” and “Jesus”– I get it, trust me. I’m a recovering Protestant. And, if that is true for you, I ask that you please set that aside for five minutes and open your mind and heart to the possibility that Rohr might just have a gift for you.

  • Original Goodness, not Original Sin

Rohr: …most of the world’s great religions start with some sense of primal goodness in their creation stories. The Judeo-Christian tradition beautifully succeeded at this, with the Genesis record telling us that God called creation “good” five times in Genesis 1, and even “very good” in 1:31. The initial metaphor for creation was a garden, which is inherently positive, beautiful, growth-oriented, a place to be “cultivated and cared for”, where humans could walk naked and without shame. But after Augustine, most Christian theologies shifted from the positive vision of Genesis 1 to the darker vision of Genesis 3—the so-called fall.

I find Rohr’s teaching on Original Goodness not Original Sin a profound and essential one.  From about 2008-2015, I immersed myself in Buddhism and seriously considered taking Buddhist vows. However, I chose not to do so for many reasons which I will not go into here, but I am deeply grateful for those seven years and all the benefits that resulted from that period of my life.

One of the many gifts Buddhism gave to me lies in a core teaching on the fundamental goodness of humanity and all life. I did not realize the stranglehold that the teaching of Original Sin had on my being until I truly received and digested the Buddhist teaching on Basic Goodness.

And this is evidently true for many Westerners who turn to Buddhism as Rohr addresses this topic in this book at greater depth in a section entitled, “Why the Interest in Buddhism?”

Rohr: I am convinced that in many ways Buddhism and Christianity shadow each other. They reveal each other’s blind spots. In general, Western Christians have not done contemplation very well, and Buddhism has not done action very well. Although in recent decades we are seeing the emergence of what is called “Engaged Buddhism.”

and I would add the reemergence of “Contemplative Christianity”

Rohr continues this section emphasizing the importance of both contemplation and action on the spiritual journey. I view this marriage of contemplation and action as an evolutionary imperative of our times– deeply related to the transformational shift to a theology and cosmology of a Cosmic or Universal Christ that includes you and me and ALL life.  

  • Jesus and Christ are two distinct beings—Jesus the Person AND the Body of Christ.

Rohr: When Christians hear the word “incarnation,” most of us think about the birth of Jesus, who personally demonstrated God’s radical unity with humanity. But in this book, I want to suggest that the first incarnation was the moment described in Genesis 1, when God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything.

The incarnation, then, is not only “God becoming Jesus.” It is a much broader event….Christ that the rest of us continue to encounter in other human beings, a mountain, a blade of grass, or a starling.

When I am graced to see with sacred eyes and orient my being and life from this “everything is holy now” vision, the difference is beyond description. I feel an inner shift from a ho-hum state to a state of aliveness, exuberance and reverence even in the most mundane activities such as walking our dog, Bella.

Thus, as we approach Christmas 2019, the religious holiday commemorating Jesus’s birth, I invite us to consider celebrating our amazing Cosmic Christ. As we do, we may ask ourselves what we, individually and collectively are birthing, in and through the seeds of our thoughts, words, and deeds and then seriously consider how these seeds contribute to a not- yet New Earth of Universal Love.

Peace be unto you. Amen.

Revised 12/30/19

Leadership Development Tools: Using Transactional Analysis (TA) for Cultivating Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Transactional Analysis: Parent-Adult-Child Model

Many students and practitioners of leadership are often on alert for the latest concept, tool, or tip to cultivate greater emotional intelligence (EQ). However, on our search for the latest and greatest, we may be missing out on the nuggets offered by longer standing conceptual frameworks and tools. For example, Transactional Analysis or TA is one such framework that continues to offer leaders support for greater self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social management (the four dimensions of EQ).

TA originated in the 1950s by Eric Berne, a Canadian born psychiatrist trained in Freudian psychoanalysis. While this training greatly influenced and informed his work, it did not define it. Unlike Freudian psychoanalysis, TA also focuses on observable communication and behavioral interactions (or transactions) as a means of healing and development. The four basic elements of TA include:

  • The theory of personality or ego-state model
  • The theory of communication or communication model
  • The theory of script
  • The theory of games

Personally, and professionally, I find the first two elements of TA, the theory of personality and the theory of communication, most helpful as leadership development tools for cultivating greater EQ. The primary reasons for this are the simplicity and accessibility of these two aspects of TA. The TA theory of personality with the Parent-Adult-Child (P-A-C) model proposes that we live in and out of three basic inner states, childlike, adult, or parental. The TA theory of communication postulates that we communicate and behave in accord with our inner state.

Four Elements of Emotional Intelligence

With increasing self-awareness (please see my other essays on the importance of meditation and self-observation practices), leaders can recognize (with nonjudgmental acceptance) when they are in a parental or childlike state, refrain from speaking and acting from that state, release the attachment to the patterned reaction, reorient toward the desired adult: adult state and communication style, and replace the habituated (and often destructive or at least unproductive) pattern with a more constructive pattern of relating. Ideally, over time, adult leaders cultivate an increasing capacity for conscious communication.

The parental state and style arise from collective memories or permanent recordings of unprocessed life experiences of interactions with parents and other parental figures, primarily from one to five years of age. One’s basic sense of rules to live by (do’s and don’ts) reside here and cannot be erased (keep reading because our Adult can turn it off!). However, if/when there is disharmony between the parent figures, the impact is greatly reduced. The Parent state and style are often recognizable by absolutes of “should,” “ought,”   “must,” “never,” and “always.”       

The childlike state and communication style arise from one’s subjective (mainly feelings) childhood experiences primarily from one to five years of age. This state and style are often recognizable by strong feelings of both delight and despair.

The Adult state and style arise from life experiences from 10 months onward that challenge the external parental messages and the internal child feelings with direct lived experiences and thought formations. The Adult gains increasing capacity to recognize the parental tapes and challenge the merit and helpfulness of them while also discerning which feelings are appropriate to express and how to do so.

The Adult is recognizable by the growing capacity to assess the validity or rightness of the information (incoming and Child-Parent tapes) and respond accordingly. While there may be times when a Child or Parent state and style might be a leader’s conscious choice in professional settings, Adult: Adult relationships are the aim. 

TA, an oldie but goodie as far as leadership development goes, particularly for cultivating EQ. So, dust off that old copy of “I’m OK, You’re OK” and reread it! You and your colleagues (and loved ones) will be glad you did!

Head, Heart, Hands, and Will: Beyond Personality to an Integrative Approach to Leader Development

From DISC to Insight Discovery to Meyers Briggs, personality typologies are frequently used as tools for leader development. However, after years of exploring and utilizing such tools, personally and professionally, I’ve come to realize that while they can be extremely helpful, when misused (and sadly, they often are misused), they can stifle development and maturation.

Stunted development and maturation of potential leaders, particularly those who have care and concern for life on earth, are NOT what the world needs now! Therefore, to maximize the developmental utility of personality theories, it is imperative to use them as springboards into the developmental journey and not the destination. In other words, to know one’s personality type or temperament is the beginning and not the destination or aim of the leader development journey. Ideally, the aim of leader development is a fully integrated, mature, and whole human being in service to a better world.

Thus, a more optimal use of temperament or personality models is to inform an integrative leader developmental plan and approach that incorporates and balances the head, heart, hands, and will or the four basic temperaments that form the foundation of many personality typologies (e.g., Insight Discovery—Cool Blue, Earth Green, Sunshine Yellow, and Fiery Red).

There are certainly developmental benefits from using personality typing tools to include the increase of self-awareness (including shadow), and greater self-management.  Enhanced self-awareness and self-management are no small feat of course and it’s truly empowering and liberating to grow in these areas! The potential for ongoing growth here continues throughout one’s life. As we discover tendencies toward limiting expressions, we are more able to relax the habitual reactions and consider different perspectives and behavioral responses—truly transformational on the individual, interpersonal, and collective levels!

However, while greater self-awareness and self-management are highly desirable and deeply beneficial, if leaders stop there, they may solidify their identity around their personality type or temperament. This type of solidification of personality can be referred to as overidentification which occurs when we orient our entire identity around a descriptive quality or characteristic such as personality type. Overidentification leads to rigidity, defensiveness, hyper-sensitivity, and hyper-competitiveness as if one’s life were on the line because, in a state of overidentification, it is!  Consequently, this internal state significantly limits growth, maturation, and wholeness, because it blocks, refuses, or destroys any impressions that contradict the solidified identity.

To overcome these potential pitfalls, leaders can use their understanding of their personality type to inform an integrative or holistic developmental plan that fosters growth in underdeveloped areas. For example, a will-oriented personality (e.g., Fiery Red in the Insight Discovery typology) can engage in transformative practices that cultivate the heart (e.g. lovingkindness meditation), the head (e.g., reading and studying), and/or the hands (e.g., service and activism).

While leaders can certainly work on one area at a time, approaching leader development from an integrative or holistic approach can greatly accelerate development and propel us toward self-actualization (see Ken Wilber’s or George Leonard’s & Michael Murphy’s work on this topic). Of course, the developmental journey does not end here as there are higher peaks available to those willing to engage in the lifelong dynamic dance of stillness and action while also surrendering to the ultimate mystery of personal transformation, Divine love and grace.

Note: Leaders interested in exploring an integrative developmental approach and coaches interested in offering a more holistic approach to their leadership coaching may contact me at denise.frizzell@dafrizzell.com.  

Words of Caution for the Inner Journey of Self-Transformation

The three systems of self-transformation outlined in my book and recent blog essays offer examples of comprehensive psychospiritual approaches to the inner journey of self-transformation. The transformative practices highlighted throughout my book and essays are elements of these three and other systems of self-transformation. Thus, by themselves and isolated from the system or school of which they are part, transformative practices are limited and potentially harmful for numerous reasons.

Caution sign citation–By Fry1989 eh? – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20449676

Transformative practices isolated from the systems or schools in which they are embedded are limited and potentially harmful because the psychospiritual frameworks in which they are part provide the container for sensemaking and integration of potentially disruptive experiences that may arise from the use of these powerful practices. Remember, the purpose of these practices is inner transformation. Thus, disruption of one’s inner and, most likely, outer life is highly likely and desirable from the perspective of fulfilling this purpose. However, although such disruption is uncomfortable, the degree of discomfort must not exceed the capacities of aspirants to integrate the experiences into life in a way that allows them to function in the world. Thus, unrooted transformative practices have little developmental value and may cause harm.

Additional dangers often referred to as spiritual emergencies, include obsession with mystical experiences rather than disciplined attention to steady incremental inner shifts occurring over time through the difficult and often emotionally painful work of consistent and persistent self-observation and work with transformative practices. This lure is so seductive and persuasive that American psychologist and spiritual teacher, John Welwood coined the term, “spiritual bypassing” to warn contemporary seekers of this potential pitfall. 

Furthermore, people may be in danger of ego-inflation and self-aggrandizement arising from exhilarating experiences when using transformative practices. It is critical to note that proper motivation (i.e., desire for development for constructive, preferably virtuous, reasons), humility, and a commitment to ethical living are essential elements of the three systems of self-transformation outlined, as well as the ancient-wisdom traditions highlighted in Chapter 5, and the mindfulness-based interventions and Buddhism discussed in Chapters 1 and 2. In addition, the potential for self-inflation and other forms of self-deception significantly diminish with the assistance of a spiritual friend, coach, director, or community.

The literature on spiritual emergencies also warns of the potential for physical symptoms such as uncontrollable shaking. Accompanying the growing field of transpersonal psychology is increasing awareness and understanding of these types of phenomenon such that more therapists can help clients integrate these experiences in a healthy and productive manner that facilitates growth and does not hinder it. After all, ideally, “spiritual experience is viewed as desirable and spiritual seeking is seen as natural, healthy, and in the final analysis, the only truly fulfilling answer to the challenge of existence” (Cortright, 1997, p. 158) This is certainly the case when the experience builds slowly and incrementally over time, or a sudden powerful experience arises after a solid practice and support foundation is in place to facilitate healthy integration.

Another word of caution is that if you join a psycho-spiritual group associated with any of the three contemporary systems outlined in Chapter 5 or others and the group promotes exclusion or intolerance of people outside the group, leave that group immediately and find one that does not. Exclusion or intolerance toward people outside the group is a flashing warning light of cultish tendencies. All aspirants need to avoid such groups as they are highly inconsistent with the inner journey to self-actualization and Self-realization. Also, if affiliation with a psychospiritual group or community places sexual expectations, excessive financial demands, or attempts to control the personal freedom of its members in any way, quickly move on and out!

Furthermore, while these three systems work with the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the human experience, they emphasize the psychological dimension of the spectrum. Consequently, at some point along the journey, albeit different for everyone, typically after many years of consistent practice, it may become helpful, perhaps necessary, to pick a defined spiritual path (i.e., root oneself in an established religion). I acknowledge that for many 21st-century seekers, perhaps those of us who identify as “spiritual not religious” (an inner struggle of which I am quite familiar) may reject the previous statement. This is quite understandable given the painful failings of our religious institutions over the years. However, I have come to realize that I have no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I invite you to consider this as well.  

As highlighted, many, if not all the world’s great religions have inner (esoteric) traditions as well as outer (exoteric) traditions. Most of us are familiar with the exoteric versions of the world religions, which typically emphasize rituals, beliefs, morals, doctrines, and creeds. In contrast, the inner traditions emphasize self-transformation and ultimately the realization of unity with and love of all life and one’s supreme identity and union with God/Spirit/Light. Others may be more at home on an interspiritual or multifaith path which emphasizes the sharing of transformative or union experiences across the religious traditions.

Whether one takes an interspiritual, an esoteric religious, or universal and nonreligious psychospiritual path, it is important to emphasize that they are all maps for the journey of self-transformation; they are not the territory. The territory is one’s life, lived and experienced such that one’s direct experiences of increasing awareness, maturity, and compassion become the barometer of the rightness of one’s chosen path as depicted by the 10 developmental themes of mindful leaders presented in Chapter Four.

However, the purpose of this book is not to provide an overview of the inner traditions of the great religions, which I am not equipped to do; rather I offer a cautionary note as it relates to the inner journey of self-transformation. If the reader would like to explore any or all of the inner traditions mentioned here, I offer a few possible references in the Additional Resources section along with resources for The Fourth Way, Psychosynthesis, Integral Life Practice, and Mindfulness.

I humbly acknowledge that while the inner journey to wholeness takes consistent and persistence “right effort” as emphasized throughout this book, there is a mysterious dimension of the journey that is completely beyond human effort. While there are different names for this mysterious dimension, I will simply call it grace as taught in the Christian tradition. Grace invites surrender, patience, humility, and detachment as it has little to nothing to do with human effort and more to do with God’s/Spirit’s/Light’s infinite love for us and all creation (see Figure).

Source: Frizzell, Denise (2018). Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders

Note: This essay is an adapted excerpt from my 2018 book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders.”