The Transforming Leader

Pearson, Carol

This week we are talking with Dr. Carol Pearson who is the president of Pacifica Graduate Institute. She has a book, The Transforming Leader: New Approaches to Leadership in the 21st Century. She is the editor of that book and we are going to talk to her about that. Also Carol is the Executive Vice President in Provost of Pacifica Graduate Institute. She also is the creator of the Pearson Architype Indicator System. She has a series of books and instruments that support it as well. We’ll discuss how she brings the young architypes and some of those depth aspects to leadership.

Dr. Pearson’s scholarly, administrative, teaching and consulting work has always been in the service of helping people live and work at a deeper level of awareness. The resulting insights enable individuals, groups, and organizations to be more successful and employees to experience a greater sense of joy and personal fulfillment in their work.

She has promoted these ends in practice in administrative and teaching positions not only at the Pacifica Graduate Institute, but at the University of Maryland, Georgetown University, and the University of Colorado. She has also been the Senior Editor of the Inner Edge, a Resource for Enlightened Business Practice and a seminar leader and consultant working with non-profits, government agencies and mission driven for profit business.

Her book The Transforming Leader is available at Amazon and all of the key places that you would buy a book. She also is developing a Masters Degree Program in Leadership and Organizational Development at Pacifica Graduate Institute.

Carol is the co-developer of the Pearson-Moore Architype Indicator. This helps people understand the themes that they have shaped in their lives for prototype leadership, personal leadership, a personal branding tool, that has been developed by one of her associates. It’s an assessment usually followed by coaching and translates the insights into actions and implementation of strategies. It can be easily integrated into group work or individual work and it helps people understand how they truly want to live at this time in their lives, create personal and professional missions that leverage their authentic strengths, trigger a greater sense of meaning, shift energy from counter-productive to productive form, and show up more authentically.

It helps organizations improve relations by taking a more appreciative approach—so really understanding others and helps you become more inspirational, motivational and which architype narratives are playing out in certain relationships. Her websites are and Carol, welcome!

Dr. Carol Pearson: Nice to be here with you.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Well, thank you for that and for being here and taking the time. We always ask folks this question first: who have been some of your major influences that helped shape the leader you are today?

Dr. Carol Pearson: Well when I thought about that question before, one thing that came to me is that when I was 5 years old, I refused to stay in the church nursery in my sweet little church in Houston, Texas. I absolutely insisted that I go to the regular service. There was a wonderful minister, his name was Bill Arnold and he created a place where everybody felt cared about and everybody kind of pitched in. It lead me to understand that could happen and that it didn’t have to be a church for it to happen.

Much later, when I first was in administration, Bob Corrigan who was President of San Francisco State University, but I knew him at the University of Maryland, was a great leader and great model for me in that what he did was he was really a coach. He helped us all to understand what was going on in higher education, what was going on at the University, what we might be able to do better. He also took very principled stands particularly around diversifying and was not shy about calling things the way they were.

I guess the last person that I would mention right now is Donna Shavlik, who is the Director of the Office on Women at the American Council on Education, for 30 years. There were two things about her. One, she helped get more women in to administration, partly by creating networks. Some networks of women, but also networks where women who have the potential to lead were networked with men who were leading. The other piece was that she persevered for 30 years and made a huge difference.

You know, obviously, there are tons more people who had a big influence on me, but those are the three that come to mind right this moment.

Dr. Relly Nadler: That’s always interesting to hear and I always like to say if someone impresses you maybe there is something in them, that there is something I need to learn or something I’m not as good at; just sense of being impressed seems to be kind of a queue.

Dr. Carol Pearson: We also see that sometimes we project our potential onto people that exemplify it and by watching them we learn how to really bring that out in ourselves.

Dr. Relly Nadler: It almost at that unconscious level there is some kind of knowing—this person has something for me to learn or to teach me.

Dr. Carol Pearson. Isn’t that amazing? It’s also just important to follow that when you have that resonance with somebody, to follow it and pay attention.

Dr. Relly Nadler: That’s why we are glad that we have you on the show. I think what happens and what is so great about Leadership Development News—we’ve been doing this for 8 years—is that between Cathy and I we bring on people, she and I are always thirsty learners, that we know we can learn from, like yourself.

Let me ask a couple of questions about—I’ve been reading through your book in preparation for this and you have some fascinating chapters and great people that you had write chapters—what most motivated you to take on this study for leadership for transformation?

Dr. Carol Pearson: I was running an institute at the University of Maryland named after James MacGregor Burns who coined the whole idea of transformational leadership, so that’s what we were doing. I was very inspired by him in the sense that he saw leadership as really a moral activity and that really transformational leadership is about transforming the situation that you are in, in a way that has a win-win outcome for the greater good. That also, the process, brings out the better aspects of people. Better aspects can be more productive, but it can also be more caring of others. So, it’s a whole range of activities and that to do that you have to bring out the better part of yourself.

The other piece that really started the work that led to this book, was more the level of distress that I was hearing from people who were in recently high-levels, who were studying with me at the University of Maryland in our Executive Programs in a variety of places, some of them were in the government. The people in the military were saying the old ideas of leadership—everybody was saying the old ideas of leadership aren’t working.

They were saying, exactly how do we go to Iraq and make friends with the population when we can’t tell if that group of women and children is about to hurl a grenade at us. People at NASA were saying one of the reasons that we had the Challenger and the Columbia disasters was that partly the leadership was saying that they knew there were problems, they said fix it, but don’t change anything. The companies that were helping doing that, the outsourcing, their benefit and what they were focused on was getting a bonus for being on time and under budget.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So, I can see that’s the whole tendency of not to say what’s going on.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Carol, I have a question for you. How did you fund a large 5-year project about transforming leadership?

Dr. Carol Pearson: First I worked with some colleagues; it’s always good to consult. We talked about what our values were and the project and what we really wanted to accomplish and the hunger that we had to help. I gave a couple of examples, but there are so many more, that were struggling in leadership.

What we decided that we needed to do is to find leaders and people who coach such leaders, and people who study them that are doing transformation things at a variety of levels, not necessarily Nelson Mandela. I knew about Fetzer Institute which is a wonderful foundation that committed to promoting love and forgiveness in the world in a fairly sophisticated way.

Also the institute that I ran housed the International Leadership Association. I talked to the head of the International Leadership Association and together we went to the Fetzer Institute and just talked to them. They are an operating foundation and the partner with you, which is a lovely thing.

They loved the idea and they truly partnered with us, and they are very lovely people. We evolved with the project in a very real and sustained way. We had their processes to convene people and have dialogue, and then create a product out of that, and the product was the book, The Transforming Leader.

Dr. Relly Nadler: They have an incredible mission. It looked like it just fit, really, really well with what you and your colleagues were focusing on. As we get into the meat of it, I have your book here, part one is Transformation Thinking for the 21st Century, part two is Being the Change in a Work of Transforming Leaders, part 3, the Art of Working and Transforming Groups, and then you have a great appendix with application exercises and additional resources. There is a lot in there and we want to jump into a few things. What were, if you had to say, the three major findings that came out of this study? How would you depict those?

Dr. Carol Pearson: Well, actually, they are exactly the three major parts of the book. The world has changed so radically with global interdependence, and the fast-pace of change that we have to actually think in new paradigm ways, leaders at any level, to be successful. With the level of uncertainty and fear in the world, and we have to be different, leaders have to be different because we are the ones that have to hold calm and hope, and help people realize that we can get out of this and it’s going to be alright. If we don’t do our inner work, that is not going to happen.

The other piece is with emotional intelligence; we can’t be emotionally intelligent about other people if we are not emotionally intelligent about ourselves.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Carol, one of the things that is very compelling about what you are talking about is you said uncertainty and fear and that we have to do this inner work. This is so important because I think one of the things that you are discovering in you work that you are sharing with people is a consciousness raising about how fear creates this inertia and the ability to overcome that inertia. I hope that when you share with us some of these findings that you can give us, perhaps, some of these examples.

Dr. Carol Pearson: Yes, and I have been doing this think lately. I can’t turn on the television or the radio without hearing ‘be afraid,” “be more afraid!”

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Bleeding leads, unfortunately in the media.

Dr. Carol Pearson: In the brain, the Amygdala always gravitates to eminent danger and of course that is why the news media does that, whether they know that or not, they know their ratings go up if they scare people.

If we are going to lead out of this, we can’t get caught in it. There are meditation practices we can do, there are emotional intelligence practices that we can use to be aware when fear comes up and decide to go in another direction, but recognize it in case it’s warning us; it’s a sign we need to be conscious of.

The more that we connect with that level we can amplify that other people are feeling that and help them move into a calmer place to have some hope; speak to them in a way that first honors who they are, respects who they are, feels their fear, but then helps them just move and see some possibility at least for what they can do to part of a solution. They could be cleaning the building and it’s still true. To help them see that what they are doing is contributing to something that is part of the answer. I think that is just essential that we as leaders help virtually everybody in our organization see how they are a part of something that is positive and that they can make a difference.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I think your study and research really went deeper into those areas about knowing yourself, about working with groups and thinking differently. Can you give us ideas of how people can do that, maybe some examples? Let’s say as a leader there is fear and they watch fear in the organization about what may happen, is there a takeover, are we going to downsize; what would be some of the things for a leader to first, calm himself, and then be able to calm others.

Dr. Carol Pearson: Well, one thing is just good information. What’s real, right now, in the moment as opposed to all these fears about the future? Right here at Pacific people get caught up into that, but we all have our jobs, we don’t have furloughs; we are fine. Getting people to what is real right at this minute. Helping people to see a future. Imagine what our future is going to look like and some path to get there.

The other piece that I was referring to before, is not only how the institution has the path to get there but what is my part in it. I think two, bonding, connections; one of the values of Pacifica, actually one value is “logos,” that is truth / knowledge. Another is “eros” which is a kind of enjoyment in connectivity with other people on the earth.

When we get into that place of being caring about one another and respecting each other, we form a community in which it is enjoyable to work and that helps move from the fear. One of our essays talks about the wisdom of the heart. There is actually neuroscience that talks about that we have brain kind of neurons in the heart. As people are more connected, the more connected they are less fearful and more likely to come from the heart. Love is letting go of fear.

You can listen to the complete, inspiring, interview above.


Leave a Reply