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,