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Leadership Performance


EMDR Leadership Performance Coaching

Understanding how one’s social identities impact leadership is even more critical given the advent of a global workforce.  Leaders will interact with people who have diverse social identities. To bridge differences, effective leaders will need a solid grasp of their own identities and how they come across to others with diverse social identities; as well as to appreciate the perspectives and values of others.

“To be as effective as possible, today’s leaders must also gain knowledge of their social identities—their membership in certain social groups and the implications of belonging to these groups.  Social groups are defined by categories such as gender, age, ethnicity, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status,” (Ruderman and Ernst, 2010).

Social Identity theory, developed by Henry Tajfel in 1972, argued that people identify with certain group categories, and favor people like themselves. In group and out group experiences reveal power dynamics within organizations that include stereotyping, bias, discrimination, decisions about inclusion and exclusion, and conflicts or solidarity between and within groups.

It is my argument that these social identities are not conflict free, and in fact, may be riddled with painful life experiences—even stigma, shame and hurt. The memories of these experiences may get “activated” in the workplace, and a high performing executive may find him or herself coping not only with the current situation at hand  but also with the onslaught of painful earlier life experiences.  This added jolt distorts accurate perception, reduces cognitive abilities, leads to emotional dyscontrol, and hampers interpersonal effectiveness, all of which results in less effective leadership.

EMDR is a powerful tool when used within an executive coaching model  to rapidly restore  the executive to more effective leadership performance.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is a well-researched therapy for PTSD. It is being applied to other issues including performance enhancement in the workplace.

Here are some examples of how emotions from our social identities may get activated in the workplace.

  • Female executive feels devalued among male peers and upper management.
  • Latino executive feels he is disrespected amongst Anglo peers.
  • Gay executive feels invisible and marginalized in heterosexist workplace.
  • Single executive feels unfairly treated relative to married executives.
  • Overweight executive feels ashamed interacting with averaged sized co-workers.
  • Executive from state university feels inferior to  Ivy League peers.

Indeed these differences and bias do exist.

However, how one interacts with these differences is the difference between resourceful and less resourceful leadership.

How the executive perceives, interprets and responds to the bias is largely due to one’s life history, and current skill level. These influences may come from one’s family-of-origin, school related bullying and ostracism, inter-group differences in one’s town, and adult experiences of conflicts with diverse social identities.

So, which executive will act more resourcefully in the face of bias?

Here you have two executives who are experiencing genuine bias. Executive A, is the scenario of an executive with a relatively “clean” history of stigma or painful events related to social identities. Level of functioning is mainly in the present, unhampered by past experiences.  Executive B, is the scenario of an executive with a positive history of stigma and painful experiences. This executive’s functioning is split between current AND past experiences of hurt, stigma or pain.

Executive A, I hypothesize, may experience emotion say anger commensurate with the current event. However, I’d speculate that this executive will be better able to maintain accurate perception of the event, have better emotional control, be able to initiate effective action, and have greater interpersonal and organizational effectiveness.

Executive B on the right may experience the “double whammy” or the amygdala hijack which is rather disabling to effective leadership. What happens is that there is a quick surge of emotion and a rapid cascade of events: there is an inaccurate interpretation of the event, a quick uptick in emotion or emotional dyscontrol, a decline in cognitive functioning, intrusive images or body sensations of hurts from the past, reduced personal and interpersonal effectiveness, and in worst case scenario alienation from peers or derailment.

EMDR Leadership Performance Coaching can Address This Double Whammy and Restore Effectiveness

EMDR technique can address the double whammy so that the past stays in the past, the current stays in the current. Then, the executive can respond in more resourceful, resilient, and effective ways.

EMDR targets pockets of stuck emotional experiences in the brain and nervous system that lead to core beliefs are false, negative, and limiting. After EMDR processing, these beliefs transform to more positive and resourceful beliefs that can fuel peak performances. Some Core Limiting Beliefs include:

  • I’m inferior
  • I’m different
  • I’m devalued
  • I’m rejected
  • I’m ashamed
  • I don’t matter
  • I’m not acceptable.

Core Limiting Beliefs are anchored in body sensations and intense emotions.

  • Familiar tightness in the chest
  • “that sinking feeling” in the stomach
  • fist clenching
  • constriction in the throat
  • anger
  • fear
  • shame
  • anxiousness
  • sadnes
  • guilt

Once activated, these past experiences become the lens by which the executive comes to experience the present.

  • “I felt just like I did when I was bullied on the playground.”
  • “It brought back that feeling in my stomach when my parents berated and yelled at me”.
  • Boss demeans and yells at you, and you feel like the 8 year-old child who suffered the same from own parents.
  • Erratic and autocratic boss triggers power and authority issues that you experienced from own parents growing up.
  • In group co-workers activate out group experiences from middle school of being ridiculed and bullied in the worst ways.
  • Predominantly male senior executive team activates childhood experiences of direct sexism between parents, and directly at oneself.
  • Predominantly white company activates past experiences of being “different” and excluded for a person of color.

How Core Limiting Beliefs Work

Our beliefs influence our feelings, which in turn directs our behaviors.  In the workplace, this triad also plays a role in the executive’s interpersonal impact, and in turn organization impact.

Example 1

A core belief of “I don’t matter”  leads to sadness, which leads to the behaviors of low engagement.

A core belief of “I matter” leads to confidence, which in turn leads to assertive engagement.

Example 2

A core belief of “I’m devalued” leads to rage, which in turn leads to rude, argumentative behaviors.

A core belief of “I’m equal” leads to calm,confidence, which in turn leads to civil collaboration.


A promising American senior executive seeks to “polish” her demeanor in hopes of making Executive VP ranks. She gets emotionally hot and reactive in meetings when she feels “devalued” by her male peers when they don’t adopt her opinions.

Within an executive coaching engagement, and after 3 EMDR sessions, we processed  experiences of exclusion by peers, and direct sexism by father towards herself and her mother. We also used EMDR to strengthen a positive belief, “I have value,”  into her current work situation.  Afterwards, she felt calmer in meetings and did not personalize their actions as “devaluing” her but rather “they are going in a different direction. “ Her emotions were more in check, and her evaluation of the situation was more accurate. Even with an admittedly sexist peer, she was better able to see that his sexism was inherent to him, and she didn’t need to devalue herself as a result. His issue, not mine was the attitude as she retained her own sense of value. Even in this brief amount of work, we were able to sufficiently desensitize and restore current effective performance.

EMDR Leadership Performance Coaching

This executive coaching model can be very helpful within a short period of time to optimize current performance in the workplace.

Please leave a reply to contact you or call my office for a consultation to see if this model is best suited for you.