Emotional Icebergs and Leaky Roofs

by Charles J. Chamberlain, co-founder Chamberlain Leadership Group LLC

We have worked with many clients over the past 10-11 years who have used our tools to overcome emotional issues, or to simply develop better emotional control and awareness in leadership roles. But as people gain more emotional literacy and increased ability to manage their emotions, the same two frustrating phenomena show up time and time again. Perhaps there are better words to describe these phenomena, but two metaphors do a great job in helping us visualize them.

Emotional icebergs

Due to its buoyancy in denser sea water, an iceberg floats with approximately 10% of its mass showing above the water and 90% submerged. When we embark on a plan to understand behaviors and underlying emotions, we see a similar pattern in ourselves and others. Only 10% of our emotional “mass” is visible as conscious behaviors, vocalizations, and consciously controlled non-verbal expressions.

The remaining 90% of our emotional world is “submerged” beneath our consciousness. But just because an emotion is below the surface doesn’t mean it has no impact on us. To the contrary, because it is submerged, it has even more power over us, especially if we continue to be consciously unaware of it. This 90% carries significant weight as we form and maintain our identities, create relationship habits, develop meaningful motivations, and navigate the challenges of our lives.

The extent of our enjoyment of life and relationships is largely determined by how well we understand and manage the entirety of our emotional iceberg. Whether or not we are at ease in our lives or at “disease” can be a function of how well we are managing the submerged portion of our emotional existence. Submerged emotions can interact with our physical bodies in unexpected and unwanted ways. They can come “out of nowhere” and affect our verbal and non-verbal communication. They can cause illness. They can also cause us to do things that don’t make sense to our rational minds. Have you ever said, “I don’t know why I said that?” Or, “I don’t know why I did that?” Our submerged emotions can be particularly sensitive to triggering stimuli, thrusting us into “mysterious” episodes of despair or confusion, leaving us wondering, “Why am I suddenly so upset, worried, or depressed?”

You could think of the self-directed tools we offer as scuba diving gear, allowing us to dive beneath the surface and explore the submerged 90%. And, like a scuba diver’s equipment, the emotional tools allow us to go as deep as we are comfortable going. No one is there to pressure us to go beyond our comfort level. If we want to stay just a few feet beneath the surface, we can do that. If we want to dive deeper, we can do that too. The tools allow us to gain an appreciation for the extent of our emotions, while at the same time working on specific areas of concern.

Emotional Leaky Roofs

Once we have discovered some tools to work on specific emotional areas, we often face another phenomenon we’ll call the “leaky roof” phenomenon. Anyone who has experienced a leak in the roof can relate to this dilemma: After a hard rain, you notice water coming through a small hole in the corner of your dining room. At first, you place a bucket under the hole to collect the water, then when the storm has subsided, you look for the source of the problem. It is unlikely, however, that the hole in the roof is directly above the hole in the ceiling. Water has a tendency to enter from one hole, travel many feet away along trusses and structures in the attic, and create another hole as it follows gravity. An inexperienced homeowner might patch the drywall in their ceiling, thinking they’ve fixed the problem. A later storm comes along and it becomes clear that the source of the problem is not where it appeared to be.

Likewise, in our work with people who come to us having identified a specific issue, more often than not, “the issue” is not the real issue. For instance, we’ve worked with people who have taken our anger management classes in lieu of jail time. It is tempting to say, “I have a problem with anger,” especially when a judge has confirmed that indeed you do have a problem with anger. But in our anger management approach, we recognize the fact that you probably do NOT have a problem with anger, but you most likely have a problem with fear, guilt, confusion, or an array of other possible emotions.

This “leaky roof” dilemma appears everywhere. A man who can’t control his spending is really struggling with depression. A woman who puts on too much weight is really protecting herself from pain. A combative, rebellious teenager is really overcome with grief. The examples are endless.

Using the tools we provide, a person can quickly test the emotional strength of a particular issue and decide if it is simply in the path of gravity, like water flowing to its lowest point, or if the issue itself is the source of the problem.

A clear understanding of both the extent and complexity of who we are emotionally can help us be happier, more productive people.

For more information about the tools offered by Chamberlain Leadership Group LLC, contact us by clicking here.   

Leadership Development Sessions with Important Gov’t Agency

Under Chamberlain Leadership Group LLC, we held two leadership development sessions at the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission.

Session I dealt with self-awareness and the importance of understanding yourself before leading others. In this session, we did some exercises that allowed participants to understand some things about themselves that they had not considered.

Comments from participants after Session I included, “This is great! We’ve never done anything like this before!”

Session II was focused on re-defining leadership to include those activities that are so small they would not be deemed “world-changing.” If leadership is influence (according to John C. Maxwell), then anything we do to influence someone comes under the banner of leadership. This could include something as simple as complimenting someone or smiling at someone. Also, when we simply manifest our internal values, we are being leaders. We looked at four short video clips of orchestra conductors, each with their unique leading style. We then discussed the participants’ top three values and had them put those values into “I Am” statements. It was a powerful experience.

We look forward to further leadership development sessions with this organization as well as with several other corporations outside of the university. It feels very satisfying to take the leadership development curriculum we have developed for our university students and expand it into the non-academic world.

Chinese Students are Surprised by Leadership Concepts

Statue of former Premier Zhou Enlai and CFAU President Chen Yi in front of CFAU auditorium

Remembering that first class day in September when a new crop of leadership students at China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) looked up at me expectantly, I could almost see the questions forming behind those beautiful brown eyes.

“Who is this American, and what will we be doing in this ‘leadership’ class?” “Does he really think we need to learn about leadership—something so far into our future?”

On that first day, I looked into their skeptical eyes and got no response when I said, “Raise your hand if you think of yourself as a leader.” Polling the class, I verified what I had already discovered about most students in China: they think of leadership only in terms of positional power.

I then did something unexpected: I showed four short video clips of orchestra conductors leading their orchestras. Each had a unique style. One kept a steady metronome-like beat, showing no emotion on his face. Another closed his eyes while swaying and waving his arms in oversized motions. A third conductor did an exuberant little dance while gesturing with his arms. The fourth was the most unusual. He did nothing with his body and, strangely, kept his arms folded while simply raising his eyebrows occasionally and pursing his lips. This brought some nervous laughter from the class.  

As the music went silent, I looked around the room at puzzled expressions. Breaking the silence, I said, “The true essence of leadership is simply manifesting your most important values. Can you tell what the first conductor valued?”

Getting no response, I continued, “The first conductor valued a regular, steady rhythm.” I then imitated this maestro’s robot-like precision.

“What about the second conductor?” Again, no response. I closed my eyes and made big motions with my arms. “Can you tell this conductor really valued the emotions of his music?”

“What about the third conductor?” I asked. Finally, a timid student piped up, “He likes to dance.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “He seems to value physical movement and expression.” Several students nodded in agreement.

“How about the fourth conductor?” This brought snickers as the students remembered the conductor who seemed to do nothing. “Can you tell what he values?” All heads went down to their desks.

“It might be hard to recognize, but can you see that this conductor valued the musicians’ individual and collective expression and interpretation of the music—even without his involvement? He wants them to come forth with their own expressions. But it doesn’t make him any less a leader, does it?”

As the school year progressed, students became less skeptical, more engaged and more determined to be “values-expressing” leaders. They joined me in exploring leadership through discussion and memorable activities. We went through John C. Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership, examining case studies, working in teams to make critical decisions in simulated conditions, and even analyzing Deputy Barney Fife’s humorous behavior as a “Level 1” leader in the old American sit-com, The Andy Griffith Show. We worked through concepts in Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High (Kerry Patterson et al.) by creating simulated conflicts and allowing students to practice newly learned techniques to resolve those conflicts. We used unusual, right-hand/left-hand writing and drawing methods developed by Dr. Lucia Cappachione (The Power of Your Other Hand, etc.) to become more self-aware in order to more effectively lead others.

Students kept a leadership journal, starting with a list of their most important values. As the year continued, some were able to share from their journal and examine how well they had expressed those important values with others in their class, in their teams, in their community and at home.  

Finally, at the end of the year, we examined Fortune Magazine’s list of the 50 top world leaders. Choosing the top twelve who happened to be leaders in government, business, activism and philanthropy, we discussed what they all had in common. Because the list included male and female, old and young (even a 16-year- old), rich and poor, employers and employees, etc., the common element was obvious. Each leader had been successful in identifying a value within themselves and moving heaven and earth to express and manifest that value. Students’ understanding of leadership and their roles in it had taken a huge jump forward from the first day of class.  

China Foreign Affairs University is the “cradle of diplomacy” for China. All Chinese diplomats must receive training at CFAU, and a large percentage of China’s diplomats have also received undergraduate or graduate degrees at CFAU. It feels good to know this powerful nation’s future is in the hands of those who have a better understanding and passion for leadership.

What might the world reap from the seeds sown in my “leadership crop” this year?

A view of the “new campus” in Sha He area of Beijing
New campus “teaching building” for Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors
Gate to “Old Campus” in heart of Beijing (Xi Cheng District) Seniors are taught in the main building (shown)
Statue of Founding President Chen Yi in front of Main Building of Old Campus
Lobby of our residence (International Exchange Center)

Home Buying Can Be Joyful Chaos

Home buying and selling are examples of leadership activities. I teach leadership principles to three classes at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. We recently discussed the quote: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” Students learned that leadership in the home is the highest priority. They learned that for most people, the single biggest financial decision they will make will involve buying a home.

In addition to teaching students a topic, I am tasked with giving them an experience in American culture. So, I devised a way for them to learn all of these leadership principles, practice making an important decision, learn additional vocabulary, experience the “American Dream,” and have fun–all at the same time.

I started by printing out home information sheets from Zillow. I chose the Atlanta area and filtered for homes in the $250K to $300K range. For each home, I determined an unmet need and wrote it on an instruction sheet for each pair of students. For instance, one sheet might say, “You own a beautiful home on Sheffield Way, but your mother is coming to live with you and you need a place for her.”

Students paired up while we learned how to navigate “ad speak” such as “w/frplc” (with fireplace), or “bsmnt” (basement). Students had a hard time, but with some coaching they caught on quickly. They learned some new vocabulary like: jack and jill bath, master suite, stucco, crown molding, HOA, HVAC, half bath, “as is,” and mother-in-law suite.

Once students understood the new vocabulary, each pair had to come up with a 1-minute commercial about the home they owned and why their fellow students should buy it. Their commercials were hilarious, especially since many of  the terms were new to them. Many had seen some slick Chinese commercials on TV and tried to imitate that style in their speech. Their peers found this to be extremely entertaining. If a student wasn’t presenting a 1-minute commercial, he/she was busy listening to fellow students’ commercials to see which home best fit the unmet need they were looking to fill.

Once all commercials were finished, I turned them loose to buy and sell. Their only assignment was to sell their existing home and buy another home that fit their needs. They only had about 10 minutes for this open marketplace. The excitement level was amazing, and in the end most students were able to accomplish the objective. Once in a while, however, a pair of students would admit that they were homeless and unable to buy a new home. Or in some cases, some students owned two homes.

I would call this activity “joyful chaos.” Check out the short video and tell me what you think? Any suggestions for future classes? (By the way, I tried to make this as English as possible, but some students slip into Mandarin when excited. A few students who are learning Cantonese, will only speak to me in Cantonese)