Monthly Archives: October 2011

Team Building and Leadership Development With Aloha Spirit

The Performance Transformation team recently had the privilege of spending two weeks in Hawaii in support of one of our clients, the Palmarie Community Transformation Alliance, launch the inaugural Warriors in Transition program in the islands. Warriors in Transition is an Equine Experiential Learning workshop that supports combat veterans, their family members, and caregivers successfully navigate the transition from military to civilian life.  The program also works with active duty military personnel and their families build emotional resiliency as they move through the various stages of the combat deployment cycle.  The award-winning program was formally commended by General David Petraeus during his command of U.S. Central Command at MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL.

As part of our engagement, we conducted a customized Team Building and Leadership Development workshop for the Palmarie and Equine808 (the islands’ first and only horse rescue organization) teams that will be hosting the military and veteran programs going forward.  The team building objectives of the workshop were aimed at cultivating team cohesion and cooperation, positive communication, and creative thinking when facing adaptive challenges.  The leadership development objectives addressed accountability, presence, and empathy; culminating with the experiential learning exercises designed to teach each individual how they can connect, engage, and motivate others without coercion or dominating behavior.  The basis of our approach is to build emotional intelligence skills (self awareness, self management, social awareness, and relationship management) by understanding how our Core Mammalian Emotional Systems are part of our ancient survival mechanisms.  These new insights into our own and others’ behaviors help us understand how to succeed in the emotional landscape we move through every day.  By getting off the dance floor and into the balcony, this heightened level of awareness enables us to see our world through a new lens, empowering professionals to choose how they wish to show up and interact with those around us.

As a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a sequence of one of the team building exercises conducted with a horse.  As prey animals, horses are hyper-aware of their surroundings.  Horses use emotions as information, helping them to survive in the wild.  Horses 1.) Feel an Emotion; 2.) Get the Message Behind the Emotion; 3.) Take Appropriate Action; and 4.) Return to Grazing.  Unlike humans, horses don’t take these emotional messages personally, judge the source of the emotion, or carry emotional resonance with them once they’ve acted accordingly.  Horses are emotional savants; they mirror human emotions and provide immediate, immutable feedback to our presence and intention.

Herds of horses have evolved to be highly functional teams.  They are continuously negotiating their personal boundaries with each other, while in motion, and while staying completely connected.  In this way, they help humans model effective team work in constantly changing environments.

Here’s a sequence of a single, fifteen minute exercise in the round pen:

Grounding Exercise and Team Visualization of the Goal

The team comes together to ground themselves in the present moment, create a shared vision of their goal, and create a plan to execute the goal.

Greeting Their Newest Team Member

The team greets their newest teammate with authenticity and positive intention, welcoming him to join up  with them.

Establishing Healthy, Professional Boundaries

The team establishes a healthy, safe, and professional boundary as they establish relationship.  This cultivates respect and trust, which will help sustain connection and cooperation even in emotionally challenging situations.

Team Work Towards the Shared Goal is Initiated

Working cooperatively, and without dominance or coercion, the team embarks on executing their shared vision with the horse.  The team members learn how, through the modulation of their intention, presence, and energy, they can move the horse without the facility of speech or touch.

Cooperative Team Work Executing an Adaptive, Shared Goal

Faced with a novel challenge none of the team members have previously addressed, they learn how to work together to discover a cooperative approach to achieving their shared goal.

Team Engagement and Achievement in Real Time

The team, which now includes the horse, achieves its shared goal through non-verbal presence and engagement (click on the picture to see Honolulu in the background).

Acknowledging Their Teammate

Upon successful execution, the team acknowledges their joint achievement.

Authentic Engagement of an Adaptive Team

The team has experienced authentic engagement, without dominance or negative behavior, to achieve their adaptive goal.

The Joy of Successful Team Work

The team quietly celebrates their victory.  Note the horse’s tongue; this is a release for the horse, indicating comfort, trust, and engagement with his new herd members.

Unlike traditional approaches to team building, this is not an artificial game without real business context or a ropes course that favors younger, athletic people.  It is a highly inclusive approach to creating fully engaged teams that can come together and discover innovative solutions to challenges they’ve yet to face.  Engaging the horse inevitably reveals how human beings develop and maintain relationships with other people.  Success requires authenticity, congruency, and creativity; positive attributes organizations require in today’s rapidly changing, highly diverse environments.

Photos courtesy of Precision Photography of Honolulu.
© 2011, Performance Transformation, LLC™.


Filed under Experiential Learning, Leadership Development, Team Building

The Courage of Authentic Transformational Leadership

I’m writing this blog tonight from a condo in Makaha, Oahu on my MacBook Pro, the surf pounding away just outside the open sliding glass doors singing its eternal song.  One that will out live us all.  It is a reflective night for me, and one I wish to share with you.  Steve Jobs passed on today, falling from our realm due to pancreatic cancer.  I lost my own father in 1999 to the same disease, a mere two months after he retired from thirty years of service at Polaroid Corporation.  I was 36 years old at the time and only a few weeks shy of my being promoted to Vice President of International Marketing with STERIS® Corporation.  Something that would have made him proud beyond words if he had lived to see it.  There’s a personal nexus in this reflection for me on several levels.

The reason I’m in Hawaii tonight is I’m helping a fledgling nonprofit called Palmarie Community Transformation Alliance introduce a program to the islands that I helped create called Warriors in Transition.  The workshop is designed to assist combat veterans and their families transition from the military to civilian life.  I first came to these islands thirty years ago, as a Naval Intelligence Specialist, following in my father’s footsteps, and his father’s before him, and his father’s before him.  I was fifth generation Navy.  I came out to the Pacific to find my own stride in the sands of the footsteps of my forefathers, quite literally.  As my service drew to a close, my Dad helped me apply for college while I was at sea off the Persian Gulf, at his alma mater, The Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire.  My father was a member of the school’s first graduating class in 1963, the year I was born.  In fact, my first home was in married student housing at UNH.  Upon my return to civilian life, my father bought me an Apple II to help me with my studies.  I was thrilled with this remarkable device.  I would come home from class each day and transcribe my notes from lectures onto its 128K memory, green screen glowing, onto a floppy disk, my text book beside me to gather in all I had learned that day.  It was Steve’s machine I was engraining my knowledge upon.

As I matriculated up the ole’ corporate ladder I found myself investing in one Mac after another, unhappy with the frustrating slop MicroSoft and the clone machines heaped upon the masses.  I invested in Steve’s technology with my own money, when I had little, because it gave me an edge.  His vision enabled my vision to emerge.  Today, the resonance of Steve Jobs touches everything I do.  Not simply transactionally, as my firm edits our own videos on Final Cut Pro or the use of the iPhone or when I meditate to tracks from iTunes.  But in the lessons in behavioral economics and emotional engagement I speak to with every client we engage.  With every veteran I engage.  Steve got it.  And he got it before the rest of us did.  Just try to pry his technology from the hands of his customers, I dare you!  We are emotionally engaged with the elegance of Apple technology because Steve Jobs understood that we are emotional beings.  When we engage the heart, the mind follows…as well as the wallet.  Human beings are motivated by our Core Emotional Systems.  This has been proven scientifically by Dr. Jaak Panksepp (Google him…it’s worth a look).  It has to do with our primary survival mechanisms…it’s what has kept us alive long enough to evolve to the place we are today.  It’s why our Experiential Learning Workshops involve horses.  Yet these Core Emotions; Seeking, Fear, Panic, Rage, Caring, Playfulness, and Lust, still motivate and drives our behavior.  Whether we’re aware of it or not.  That’s another lesson, one of Emotional Intelligence, which Steve mastered decades ago.

Passion matters.  Vision matters.  Intention matters.  It resonates in those that we lead and those that we do business with as Transformational Entrepreneurs.  It’s how we change the world for the better.  And none did it better than Steve Jobs.

So as I sit here tonight, after working in the anti-technology environment of the old Dole pineapple plantations with veterans of Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, holding the space for them to engage in their own emotional intelligence in order to process their pain and trauma with horses rescued from despair, I find myself coming full circle.  Of understanding the emotional context of what it means to be a human being.  Of helping those around us find their own vision and path to healing and redemption.  Of thinking of my father…and of Steve and what he’s accomplished.  He held the courage to be a visionary.  He was thrown out of the company he founded only to return to it once the corporate hacks had lead it to the brink of demise (Apple was within three months of running out of cash upon his return) and lead it to the second most valuable company on the face of the planet.

Find your vision.  Find your courage to follow your vision.  And what the hell, change the world while you’re at it!  Steve did.

© Terry Murray, 2011.

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Filed under Experiential Learning, Leadership Development, Organizational Culture