Posted February 1, 2017 by Howard Hansen
Categories: Uncategorized


The Crab in the Cool Whip Container – The Dark Side of Empathy

Posted March 7, 2012 by sgeske
Categories: Uncategorized

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to visit relatives in Florida. I found the heat and humidity so oppressive, I’ve never been back. One memory that has endured for me is all the little sand crabs that you can see scurrying around when you walk on the beach.

If you are fast enough, and don’t care about pinchers, you can catch one of those little guys. You can put him in a cool whip container and set it out in the hot sun. Go off for a walk for a half hour or so and return. Do you know what you will find in the container?

Nothing! Those little suckers are escape artists and always find a way to haul themselves “over the wall” toward freedom.

But, and here’s where it gets strange, if you catch three or four of those little guys and put them all in a container in the hot sun, do you know what you find when you get back from your walk? You’ll find three or four dying crabs.

Instead of giving each other a leg up and helping each other escape, they are all selfishly clawing to get out and end up repeatedly pulling each other back into their sweltering prison.

In a culture where much rhetoric is applied to the importance of family values and togetherness within institutions, it is important to remember the dark side of togetherness. Yes, togetherness has its place. But if we are not paying attention, togetherness can be come emotional fusion where individuals cease to exist. A kind of “Borg” mentality ensues. The corporate term for this, and it came out of the analysis of the Challenger disaster is “group think.”

The truth is, togetherness can hinder growth, development and change. It is a force of the status quo and often times can keep people, families and institutions stuck in behaviors that threaten their health and survival. This togetherness or “fusion” is most powerful during times of increased anxiety. The way it is expressed today is in terms of empathy. (And they say that word as if it is a good thing.)

As important as empathy is in preventing psychopathic behavior, psychopaths are pretty rare in society. Far more common and far more dangerous is emotional fusion which prevents growth.

Lacking empathy is a charge leveled at leaders to indict them and call them to greater compassion. However, more than not it is a ploy of the immature who don’t want to be called to grow or change.

People, like our immune system, grow in response to challenge not empathy. Anyone interested in their own growth and the growth of others will be wary of empathy and the forces of togetherness.

In times of anxiety and change, remember the cautionary tale of the crabs in the cool whip container.

And if you are wise, you will err on the side of challenge rather than empathy.

You will be called uncaring. You will be called a traitor.

But you will walk away from the prison alive.

Peace and Courage,



Posted March 2, 2012 by Howard Hansen
Categories: Uncategorized

Can turning personal rage into a commodity shorten life?

Transformers VS Ambient Anxiety

Posted February 28, 2012 by sgeske
Categories: Energy Management Model, Uncategorized

No, I’m not blogging about a new Hollywood movie. This post highlights something hinted at in our book that can be further clarified – the leader as a “transformer” of anxiety.

As many of you now know, I resist focusing on techniques. Techniques to motivate people come across as manipulative and only serve to alienate. I believe the only effective way to lead is to take the attention off of behaviors and techniques (content) and place it on the leader’s own presence and functioning (process). One important dimension of functioning is one’s response to systemic and chronic anxiety in a system or group.

Think of any system/family/group/organization as a container or a kind of “bucket” that holds a particular mission. Along with holding the mission, the container also holds the anxiety of it’s members around that mission. Though levels of anxiety can rise and fall in a system, there remains a base level that is very stable. Like an ambient level of sound, this can be called the “ambient anxiety” of that system.

Leaders function in one of two ways in the face of ambient anxiety. They may function as “step up transformers” of anxiety, making the environment more toxic.  Or they may function as “step down transformers,” lowering toxicity and increasing creativity and effectiveness. No area of functioning is more important in determining effective leadership. It determines the entire climate of a system.

Being a “step up transformer” is tempting. It looks good to others. The drama communicates importance, giving the appearance of dedication and intensity. This mode is a perfect place to hide as an ineffective leader. It allows for symptomatic expression everywhere else. The leader can pose as a hero, bravely fighting the fires that surround him/her. This leadership camouflage can keep the focus on symptoms indefinitely while hiding the root cause of the problem in the leader.

Being a “step down transformer” in a family/group/organization/system is less glamourous. It operates less visibly and requires more maturity, courage and self-confidence on the part of the leader. Yet it is powerful in its ability to calm the storms and lower toxicity, setting members free to do their best.

At the risk of bordering on technique, we might ask, “How do I function as a step down transformer in this system?” The short answer is to work the Energy Management Model. Here is what this might look like.

  • Set one’s intent to be a step down transformer (a healing presence)
  • Focus on one’s own functioning rather than on the challenges within the system.
  • Manage personal anxiety effectively.
  • Be clear about one’s own vision and mission.
  • Remain non-reactive and non-anxious in the face of challenges.
  • Offer clear choices and clarify consequences to members while remaining detached from specific outcomes.
  • Refuse to get caught on the inside of emotional triangles.
  • Cultivate humor, playfulness and hold the bigger picture in the face of adversity.
  • Stay connected to one’s Spiritual Source and trust the unfolding of life and situations.

As you evaluate your own functioning, remember that attempts at perfection only increase anxiety and are counterproductive. If you are functioning at a level better than 50/50 you are doing well. I don’t know anyone who succeeds at functioning as a step down transformer more than 70% of the time. That is about as good as it gets. Again, our experience at HealingLeaders tells us that practicing the Energy Management Model is the best way we know to maximize this function and lead effectively. Doing so can minimize the ambient anxiety in any system and increase the maturity and functioning of its members.

Peace and courage,

Steve Geske

Up Chuck

Posted February 28, 2012 by Howard Hansen
Categories: Uncategorized

I heard Rick Santorum question the value of thousands of incredible college educated people, many of whom I know, who helped create one of the Best Places to Work for in America.  It made me want to throw up.

Calculus of Blame

Posted February 27, 2012 by Howard Hansen
Categories: FoN Chapter 2, Uncategorized

Things began to unravel for the company founder and leader.  His performance came under increasing scrutiny by the board. With fresh funding, the company grew but expectations to deliver on high leverage sales increased.  Usually, quarterly performance fell short of target.  The CEO always had plausible and well articulated reasons and, for a while, recaptured the support of the board to buy more time.  But doubts grew. The board found itself questioning what it called the CEO’s “scope of leadership”.  The board delivered its decision. The CEO’s job would be reconfigured.  He was  offered a consulting role and new leadership would assume top responsibility for delivering against strategy.  In the days immediately following, the founder behaved erratically.  Thinking “one big sales score” could save his job he cut a deal with a prospective client, one that was clearly unhealthy for the company.  Naturally, the company’s board rejected it, sealing his fate.  He was fired.

In the aftermath, not surprisingly, stories of the ex-CEO’s behavior began to emerge.  They painted a picture of a person who, as pressure mounted, became erratic.  Team members told of conversations where the leader, asking for their confidence, expressed doubts about the performance of one or another employee.   No performance improvement action came of these conversations.  No coaching occurred.  It began to occur to some of these “confidants” that the CEO was creating a “blame somebody else” defense as pressure for higher performance increased. (One might call this “preventative blame displacement”.)

While this was likely true, the misunderstanding is that the CEO created the specific defense to use in his defense should his performance be further challenged.

In fact, “blame displacement” has little to do with external functioning and everything to do with internal immunological behavior.  Blaming external forces for internal failure is a result of the incapacity of the individual to adequately detect and repair his own shortcomings.  It is no accident that we see blame displacement practiced at now advanced levels in our culture today.  Listen to your friends and neighbors look outward for causes which contribute to their own disappointments.  Hear politicians point to external sources (other politicians, leaders, values, ideologies, etc.).

Most importantly, since you cannot change how others practice blame displacement, enhance your self-awareness and develop insight into your own practices.

Our Energy Management Model is a tool for that work.

See it in our book

Peace and Courage,


Size does NOT matter

Posted February 22, 2012 by Howard Hansen
Categories: Uncategorized

That pesky emotional triangle (ET) surfaced in my life a few days ago.  I listened to a loved one describe a leadership “situation” where rational processing was in conflict with emotional hijacking.  (It is, apparently, true that when emotional reactivity takes over, the rational processing part of the brain says, “I give up”.)  We talked a bit and, I being me of course said, “I see a triangle”.  She replied, “Yes, a big one!”

Actually, size doesn’t matter when ET’s are around.

What matters is content.  And, what your position is.

A couple of years ago, Steve wrote a brilliant explanation of ET’s.  ( I re-read it when I need a theoretical refresher to help me clarify the many triangles in which I participate.

Leaders! (I mean you) If you only work on two things let them be these:  Pay attention to your own emotional maturity.  Watch those triangles!

Our book is here (

Peace and Courage,


What is a “Meta-practice?” (and why do you need one?)

Posted February 14, 2012 by sgeske
Categories: Uncategorized

It started in the 80’s. No, I’m not talking about the Beegee’s or big hair bands. I’m talking about discussions around the need for a Stress Management strategy to cope with the challenges and stress cause by hair spray and hitting the disco every night. Stress management was touted as “no longer optional.” In response, more people started exploring various methods of lowering stress. Yoga and meditation moved into mainstream culture. The need for a disciplined pattern or a “practice” was recognized and advocated by those wanting to be intentional about caring for their health and functioning at the highest levels in their daily lives.

Now, some thirty years later, a new pattern is emerging. Life has become so fast paced, so complex, that a single stress management practice, while helpful for coping, is no longer adequate for thriving. I propose what is now needed is a suite of practices; a meta-practice if you will.

Enter the Energy Management Model. The EMM sets up an intentional meta-practice that addresses the level of complexity of modern day living. As such, it focuses on 4 of the great issues or questions we are confronted with daily.

Who am I? (Self-care)

The identification and separation of self from non-self is the foundation of health and survival. On a physical level, this is addressed by the immune system. In a culture where it is easy to get lost in the agenda’s of others, the ability to take care of oneself is job one. Many of the meditative practices available today can assist in this effort. Self-care is all about the practice of integrity, the preservation of who I am and who I will be.

Where am I going? (Self-Dare)

What good is a meditative practice to take care of yourself if you don’t then put yourself out there and extend yourself out into the world? This is the power of the practice of “missioning” in our lives; living with purpose and courageously acting out that purpose in our lives. Victor Frankl, in one of my favorite books, “Man’s Search for Meaning” observed from his experience of being imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp that it was those who could see “beyond the barbed wire” and embrace a mission of living to tell their story in order to prevent this from happening again, were those who demonstrated the most resiliency to their toxic environment. Indeed, the practice of missioning (Self-dare) is vital for our existence at the most basic levels of survival.

Who will go with me? (Self-Aware)

The dynamics of our relationships with others are among complex challenges that confront us daily. Negotiating these dynamics is among the most important tasks of any human being. Scientific studies are now proving that more is at stake than psychological health and mental satisfaction. The work of microbiologist, Bruce Lipton and author of Spontaneous Evolution, has demonstrated the connection between our beliefs and the very functioning of our bodies down to the cellular level. Our relationships are the source of many of these beliefs be they healthy or unhealthy. Our cells “know” our relationships and our health and well-being are mirrored in them.

What is the world asking of me? (Self-share)

This fourth dimension in the Energy Management Model focuses not on sharing as giving ourself away. It’s focus is on intentional awareness and cultivation of the connection we share with all things. There are many metaphors for the totality of being – God, the Universe, Source, the Divine. You can fill in your own blank. (I like “the Force.”) He/she/it doesn’t care what name we choose to call him/her/it. Whatever we name this Great Mystery, cultivating a connection with something greater than ourselves is crucial if we are to escape our own world of illusions (delusions) and live in a balanced way. Indeed, this dimension, having a spiritual practice that cultivates right relationship with ourselves, others and all of life, informs, organizes and empowers the previous three practices. Without it, they are merely strewn puzzle pieces of life waiting to be put together to reveal a coherent picture of our lives.


Each practice above has many advocates in our world. Often, they make the claim that their practice is the key to happiness, well-being and fulfilling relationships (not to mention whiter teeth). But individually and alone, each is inadequate to produce anything but temporary survival. The gestalt of all four dimensions as advocated by the EMM proves to be the whole that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Only with a meta-practice, can we not only survive but thrive in today’s complex and challenging world.

Peace and courage,

Steve Geske

(You can read more about the Energy Management Model by downloading our ebook, available on Kindle here.)

Rational Collaboration

Posted February 9, 2012 by Howard Hansen
Categories: Uncategorized

The term occurred to me as I listened to a leader-type discuss his frustrations with his team mates for second guessing his work.  He has a critical role, one that involves a continuous reinvention of process.  Since he is regularly cutting new trail, and is required to move quickly and accurately, others regularly review or “sign off” on his work.  I suspect this more-brains-on-the-work process evolved innocently enough; out of a perception that evolving processes benefit from multiple perceptions and input.  But this process now frustrates the one primarily responsible for its execution.

As I listened, the term “rational collaboration” occurred to me.  I define it (first draft) thusly;  “The process by which members of teams improve the team’s aggregate business knowledge through their interactions whose purpose is to improve the selection and execution of strategies. This process requires high levels of mental processes unimpaired by chronic or episodic personal and/or organizational anxiety.”

I suspect frustration exists alongside the anxiety which accompanies the collaborative process.  If so, and we must look to symptoms of gridlock/paralysis existing in the systems to identify that anxiety, the collaborative process creates an unintended and harmful outcome.

See our book (  for a deep dive on how anxiety sabotages the best intended efforts to improve process.

Peace and Courage,


Trust Issues

Posted February 8, 2012 by Howard Hansen
Categories: Uncategorized

The term has been flying around me more frequently lately.  I think it’s use is mostly “cover” for something else.  The something else is a question to ponder.  And the process of discovery (see self awareness in the Energy Mangement Model) suggests struggle and the pain of revelation.  I have been suggesting to groups and people who throw out the term “trust issue” that they may be using it to camoflague what’s really going on.  What’s really going on may really be, “We haven’t figured out the maturity levels needed among ourselves to work successfully together”.  Drill down.  Behind the term, when challenged are other words; “dependable”, “confident”, “ambiguity”.  These insights expose the operating anxiety levels in organizations.  I recently heard a complaint from a team member that his “group” doesn’t work effectively because of an operating implication that key decisions are regularly vetted among members of the group.  This looks to him like “mistrust”.  In reality, it could well be his own discomfort with the possibility that he is capable of producing high quality results.  “Mistrust” becomes cover for something else.  We are better off challenging our own tendencies to “grab a meme” as an explanation (blame displacement) for our own anxieties.  “Trust Issues” is a particularly damaging meme.  It can create un-healable wounds in the team.

Thanks to Ed Kless for nominating our book for an award.  Vote for it here

Peace and Courage,