The Right Path Towards Moral Leadership

TMIC 1 | Moral Leadership

According to an article from Harvard Business Review, we’re entering a more human age where empathy and compassion are becoming an imperative trait in today’s leaders. Chad Lefevre and September Dohrmann discussed some of the ways a leader can hone in on moral leadership by learning new skills such as emotional sobriety. They talked about the importance of self-awareness, the ability to understand what other people are actually experiencing as we each create our own realities in life.

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The Right Path Towards Moral Leadership

Welcome to another conversation in The Most Important Conversations. I’m Chad Lefevre and I have September Dohrmann with me as usual. September, how are you? 

I’m doing fantastic. I’m enjoying the weather here in Florida. It’s starting to cool down for us so I am very much enjoying the porch swing. 

That’s always the best time. I remember when I used to live in Las Vegas, October was when patio season was, which was quite the opposite of what you’d think. If you’re in any of the Northern states or Northern countries, that’s not patio season, but that’s what we’re looking forward to, so I get that. You’ve got something special on your mind now. Share with us a little bit about what you’ve been thinking about and what you’ve been reading. 

I’m subscribed to the Harvard Business Review, they have some awesome articles that are on there. I came across one and I love reading about leadership. One that I read was, “What it Means to be a Moral Leader.” I want to read a little excerpt from the article that I was reading here. The author says, “What’s interesting about AI is that it challenges our monopoly on intelligence. We’re no longer the smartest. What’s the one thing a machine will never have? A heart. I actually think that the technology revolution is putting into stark relief and focus, the imperative to scale that which comes from the heart. There’s an adage of moral leadership that only that which comes from the heart enters the heart. From an economic standpoint in the industrial age, we hired hands and we hired strong hands, then we went into the knowledge or information economy, and we hired heads and we favored knowledge, expertise, and specialization.”  

“I think we’re going into a more human age where the qualities that emanate from the heart like the ones that were mentioned (in the above article), empathy, compassion, the ability to do the right thing, in our capacity for ethics, morality, and consciousness is now something we’re going to have to scale.” I get chills reading it again. I’m so grateful that we’re moving into this more humanistic era. You can look back over the different times when our parents or our grandparents grew up in business. It’s so vastly different. I love that we’re focusing on what Steve Jobs said, the matters of the heart. 

That’s a big thing that is at the center of everything we do at The Most Important Conversations or TMIC with The Whole Life Architecture work is “Emotional Sobriety.” I’ve said so many times that you could call it Emotional Intelligence but Emotional Sobriety includes Emotional Intelligence and then some. Anyway, the moral side, the emotional side, the who we are as human beings side of the equation, which has been largely ignored for at least the better part of the last century with little pockets here and there that are obviously always talking about it, but generally as the thrust of our focus as a society and as an economy has not paid that much attention to the human being side of things. 

I’ve said for a long time inside of our TMIC Whole Life Architecture workshops that Emotional Sobriety is the superpower of the next 100 years. You brought up AI, so we can talk about that in a second. Even aside from AI or even before AI was a thing we’re all chattering about, which incidentally is not that new. Even in an intelligent form of it, it’s been around for decades but it started to leap in terms of its ability, that’s why we’re all paying attention. Even before the whole AI conversation happened, you have to look around at the world and see that the world is largely run by men, but that’s not inherently the issue. 

TMIC 1 | Moral Leadership

What the issue is (whether it’s men or women), is that the world is largely run by emotional teenagers at best. At best, we have people with their fingers on the nuclear codes who are about as emotionally intelligent and emotionally sober as a teenager. Maybe. I always think of wars as two children throwing sand at each other in a sandbox. The unfortunate thing is they’re using deadly lethal weapons and not sand. The inability of the leaders on either side of the war to be emotionally sober and to handle themselves in a way where they’re not a walking reaction (or an ego) to not getting their way. 

That ties into something I won’t get into immediately unless we want to go there. The idea is that all of reality for human beings is seen through perception. It’s an argument of perceptions. When children don’t get their own way, what do they do? They stomp their feet, they throw things, they yell, and they scream. It’s no different with the majority of the people ruling the world. They’re hardly ruling it. They manipulated it to the point where they were in power, but they are still stuck at ages 11, 13, or 7. 

To me, this is where the business owners come into play because I’m seeing that more leaders are focused on their own emotional intelligence. Everything starts at the very top. When I think about these political leaders carrying on like they do, it’s such a bad example for those who don’t know any better or don’t have the support system or the means to know there’s a better way of doing it. The article referenced that there was this command and control type of leadership in the past, which we can see in our political systems. I think more people are stepping into this heart space and we want to empower people. I don’t want to control people. That’s exhausting. 

I’m working to control myself, but working on my own emotional intelligence is far easier as a leader to lean into those skill sets and to have compassion, understanding, and empathy for what your teammate or your peer is going through. Showing up that way and the results that come from that. There’s something about it that you can’t get with command and control. 

Think about it. First of all, you talk about compassion and I want to highlight something that until someone realizes that their experience of reality is not objective in the sense that they’re experiencing reality as it is, but rather they’re only experiencing reality as they perceive it. Until someone gets that and delves into what all that means, compassion will be very difficult for someone to experience and have. Compassion requires the awareness and the understanding that my view of what’s going on, my view of the world, or my view of this situation or this experience is my subjective perceptual view. Therefore, what the other person is experiencing, that’s their view. Once I get that, I can have compassion because I’m no longer coming from the place where I’m trapped in what I’m right about.


Until someone realizes that their experience of reality is not objective in the sense that they’re experiencing reality as it is, but rather they’re only experiencing reality as they perceive it. Until we understand that reality is not objective, compassion will be very difficult to experience and have. 

I’m trying to use command and control. If you think about what that is, it is an assertion of my will. It’s a “do as I say, not as I do.” It’s an assertion of the will that, “I see reality as it is. Whether you do or you don’t doesn’t even matter to me. Do as I say.” There’s no way to have compassion there because your viewpoint is, “I see the world the way that it is” or, “I see what needs to be done, they don’t.” It’s coming from this. I see reality from a totally objective place, they don’t. I don’t have time to teach them, so do as I say and not as I do. 

As soon as someone gets that what you’re experiencing is reality as your subjective perceptual experience, and no one else is sharing that experience with you, you’re actually trapped in a little perceptual bubble. As soon as someone gets that, suddenly, compassion is a possibility, but it is not a possibility when someone thinks they absolutely know what’s going on and everyone else is wrong. I need to show them and they need to follow and do what I say. That’s the old model. 

Now, as soon as someone gets that they’re in their own perceptual bubble, that’s where Emotional Sobriety has to come in. Now I’m 100% responsible for my emotional experience in life, how I show up, and all the inner chatter in my mind, the judgment, the self-loathing, the loathing of other people, all the things that go on. There’s work to be done inside. 

Another important layer to all of that is self-awareness. I don’t think it’s enough to just know that we all have our own unique experiences and understanding of that, but being self-aware of your own experience, how you feel, and how you interpret what’s happening to you. A perfect situation is I have a friend who’s buying a business from a couple. There has to be a partnership for three years. I’m always talking to him about, you need to understand where they’re coming from, their world, and the fears that they have. In a meeting that I had with them, those fears caused you to focus on the wrong thing. You’re not focusing on the opportunity that’s around you when you’re so consumed with all these fears. 

Having the self-awareness that, “I’m feeling fearful. What is that about?” Begin to understand all of those pieces. I think it’s easier to step into the Emotional Sobriety element when we can have that self-awareness because you have to pause with Emotional Sobriety. Pause is very powerful. A lot can happen in the pause. Having that moment to stop and notice what you’re feeling and question those feelings with you’ve [Chad] given me this advice before in the past. If you’re feeling fearful about something, set with the feeling and just sit with the feeling. Notice it. Don’t try to avoid it. Notice the feeling. 

What happens is it eventually melts away the more you sit with that. It’s an interesting experience to have. You’re like, “I’m not feeling fearful. It’s old programming popping in.” The old synapses want to say, “This situation looks familiar to this, therefore I should be afraid.” I think having that self-awareness is critical. What do you think in terms of how can somebody be more self-aware if that’s not a skillset that they possess at that time? 

The first thing they can do is what you just alluded to. It’s part of Emotional Sobriety and I think I should define that briefly. What is Emotional Sobriety? It’s the ability to feel your emotions completely, entirely, and totally and not be suppressing and running from them. It’s the ability to no longer be a walking reaction to everything that happens in your life. Whether it’s people or circumstances, you’re not in reaction, which relies on our unconscious habituated conditioning. It happens to us within 1.7 to 2.2 seconds, there’s an emotion (a reaction) and then we tell ourselves a logical story. We rational-lies how we’ve reacted, whatever that reaction is. 

I say we tell ourselves “rational-lies” because we don’t want to think we’re out of control. Emotional Sobriety is the ability to not be a walking reaction, but rather be a response, and to be able to respond to life. Emotional Sobriety is the ability to learn from our emotions and to understand the wisdom that is actually under the emotions. Oftentimes, the emotions we call “negative”; there’s no such thing as a “negative” or a “positive” emotion. We’ve labeled them as such. What feels “negative” to us is a sign that something in our life, whether it’s the circumstance right in front of us or it’s circumstances that are compounding in all of our life, those are things in our lives that are out of alignment with who we are. 

To be emotionally sober is to be able to observe, be with those so-called negative emotions, sit with them, and get curious about what’s under that. Why am I feeling fearful? Why am I feeling angry? Why am I feeling depressed? Whatever the feeling might be. Also, to get curious because it has nothing to do with what’s going on out there. You hear people often say, “You made me feel this and that.” No one makes you feel anything. People do what they do. You feel what you feel. Most people are in a reaction to that versus getting curious of, “Why am I feeling this way?” 

To answer your question, if people don’t have self-awareness and they haven’t practiced, studied, and done the work around Emotional Sobriety, what’s one thing they can do to begin to develop that self-awareness? One of the most powerful things people can do is to get into the practice of pausing. When you feel an emotion creep up, it’s difficult at first but people can get good at it, try to insert a space of not reacting and of nothing between the feeling and whatever you would normally do.

Get into the practice of pausing. When you feel negative emotions creep up, you’ll have awareness of it and will be able to intercept the reactive part.

That will start to develop an awareness because you’re going to be able to feel the emotion creeping up. You’ll have awareness of it and you’ll be able to intercept the reactive part. As soon as you can do that, then you can get curious about what’s at the source of that emotion and why it is coming up. Our emotions are wise. They’re trying to teach us things. They’re a navigation system. If you are living a life where you are feeling upset, angered, frustrated, fearful or any of these so-called negative emotions, there are things in your life that are out of alignment with who you really are. Most people tolerate it, repress it, or react to it. 

If you want to live a life of power and peace, you’ve got to develop that awareness and develop Emotional Sobriety, which takes a lot more work than people think. It’s years of work to develop it. The more you do it, the more powerful you feel because you’re no longer a victim. I guess another way to put it is developing Emotional Sobriety flips people from being a victim into a place of total freedom and power. 

That is at the heart of a good moral leader; tying it back to the article I was reading there. You mentioned that people can’t make us feel any type of way. I think that’s a very fine line when you’re in the middle of it, you’re like, “What the hell are you talking about? This guy said that my baby’s ugly. Of course, that’s going to trigger me.” (That’s the keyword, “Trigger.”) I feel like the word trigger is being overused, but I don’t have a better word for it. It’s this whole “slow down to speed up” thing, which I’ve heard over the years and I’ve begun to really understand what that means. I know it can be applied to the emotional aspect as well. 

When somebody says or does something, they’re in their own world. Whether they’re being malicious or not, or unintentionally trying to hurt your feelings, maybe, but that’s not any of your business. What is your business is how you or how I respond or react to that? There are a lot of different scenarios where we have examples of where we can pause. When somebody is in front of you and says something or does something that pushes a button or touches a wound, it’s very difficult in the beginning to pause at that moment because we want to defend and protect ourselves. That part of us that has been developed inside to protect ourselves, our heart, our intention, or our integrity, that piece is immediately going to pop up. 

Then you have another scenario where maybe you’re working on something and you’re getting super frustrated. Nobody is creating that for you. You are creating that feeling within yourself. That’s self-awareness. I’m creating this frustration. It reminds me of this: My boyfriend has a seven-year-old. She was a micro preemie, so for the first two years of her life she was on a trachea and didn’t learn how to walk and feed herself until she was after two. She’s developmentally a little delayed; she’ll catch up. I had her learning how to stick a piece of tape on paper to stick it against the wall, getting some of that eye-hand coordination going on. She was so frustrated with getting the tape to stick and the paper kept falling.  

Even at seven, she has learned to literally step back, take a deep breath, or walk away for a moment. That’s another way of simply pausing. You have to have that self-awareness of, “What am I feeling in this moment?” If it doesn’t feel good to you, stop, take a breath for a moment. You’ve also mentioned in the past that Emotional Sobriety isn’t just about negative emotions. It’s also some of the positive emotions we experience. Say a little bit more about that one because I’m still learning that piece. I want to feel good. I want to embrace it. I want to not overreact but engage in that feeling of good pleasure. 

TMIC 1 | Moral Leadership

One of the last pieces of Emotional Sobriety that we deal with when people are going through their Whole Life Architecture is not chasing an emotional state. Oftentimes, what we will experience is what we call positive emotions; happiness, or things like that. We want that to last forever. We don’t want it to go away. We desperately try to recreate it. Once it’s passed, we try to recreate it. How many people have been on holiday or had a great experience out with friends who said, “Let’s do this again.” We try to recreate it but you can’t recreate that. 

Besides the fact, you’re now attached to an emotional state. Think about what the attachment to an emotional state does. Now you’re trying to recreate happiness. You’ve got these high expectations of what that needs to feel like, look like, and how you’re going to do it because this is how it worked last time, so let’s try to replicate this. You’re attached to that. What you’ve done in that moment in terms of chasing an emotional state that is positive is you’ve created the opportunity for a negative emotional state to triumph. 

In your attachment to the positive and trying with all your might to recreate that positive emotional state, you’re bound to be disappointed by it. You’re then going to have these negative emotions come up because the reality is our emotions, for better or for worse, for good or bad, are not places we’re supposed to hang out. Think of an emotion as a compass. It’s telling you that you’re on your path and you’re headed in the right direction, or you’re not on your path and you’re headed in the wrong direction for you. Not for anyone else, but for you. 

Think of an emotion as a compass. It tells you whether you’re on the right path or headed in the wrong direction. It’s only for you and not anyone else.

When you feel a positive emotional state, that’s a sign you’re headed in the right direction. Keep walking in that direction, but don’t get attached to that experience and that moment when that positive emotional state popped up because that’s just a moment on the journey. If you get attached to it, you’ve now created the conditions to be at a loss of power because now you’re going to try and recreate that moment and it wasn’t you who created that moment anyway. The moment was a moment where everything in your life was aligned. Be in that moment. You appreciate it. 

By the way, isn’t it interesting that we’re always trying to recreate moments that we were happy and joyful in? The flip of that is, what does that say about your life? If you’re so attached to that moment, does it mean the rest of your life is so unhappy and unjoyful? Are you at such at a loss of power and are you such a victim that that’s why you have this attachment to “that one time?” It’s like, “Remember that time? It was so good. Why isn’t all of life that way?” 

In a similar way, I’ve said over the years like Valentine’s Day, I don’t understand why we create days in the year. Think about the expectation. The flowers go up 2 to 3 times in price and chocolates. There’s this expectation. It’s like what I’m saying, we’re trying to create this moment. Valentine’s Day, it’s official, February 14th, you have to create the moment. I’m sitting here thinking, “It’s just one day a year that your relationship is supposed to be amazing.” We all hyper-focus on that like a bullseye. I actually reject Valentine’s Day. It’s the one day that I’m going to relax and feed myself, and the rest of the year I should be feeding my relationship! Forget Valentine’s Day! 

As human beings, we do this. We get so trapped in our minds around trying to create situations. What we should be focusing on is creating ourselves and who we’re being. The situations are relevant because as the saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” If you are emotionally sober, you’re paying attention to the navigation system that your emotions are creating for you. You’re making sure you’re heading in the right direction in the sense of your emotions. When you’ve experienced so-called happy emotions, positive emotions, joyful, peaceful, content, or any of these things, that means you are aligned in your head in the right direction. When you’re not experiencing them, there’s something to look at. There’s not something to react to. 

I think the Harvard Business Review article was a good one because it’s shining a light. It’s funny I was talking to someone about this. A lot of business leaders who have employees in their company are noticing their employees are a little “off” right now, at best. They’re depressed, low energy, not very motivated, worried. There’s a lot of worry about the future. It’s affecting morale in the company. It’s affecting productivity, performance, and the general culture. We can try to find the reasons for it and blame and point fingers, but it doesn’t matter. 

The reality is, until everyone starts focusing on who they’re being, and the leadership in these companies start creating the conditions where they focus on who they’re being, and they provide opportunity to their employees to develop Emotional Sobriety and to develop a sense of power so people are not walking reactions and victims to all of life. Until that happens, this won’t get resolved. 

Last question. What is the goal then? If I’m hearing this information for the first time, what I’m hearing you say is, don’t be triggered by or reactive to the negative emotions, although there is something there for us to learn. Don’t necessarily be attached to positive feelings either. Is the intention to be neutral? Is the intention to be happy in the moment? What’s the intention when it comes to this scale of being connected to or not being attached to either side, negative or positive? 

I think it’s captured in this saying, “This too shall pass.” Feel the emotions. Be totally 100% immersed and present with feeling amazing. You’re on a vacation and you have that moment or maybe you’re out with friends. Whatever the circumstances, it doesn’t matter. You’re having that moment. What the Japanese call wabi-sabi where all of life, even though it seems completely out of our control, seems perfect in those moments. Totally embrace those moments. Just don’t get attached to them and try to recreate them. 

If it’s the negative emotion that’s coming up, be completely present in the moment, feel what’s going on, use it as an opportunity to look under the surface and see what might be out of alignment in our life, which are emotions are trying to alert us to; which is all a negative emotion is. Our emotions are an alert system. “What you’re doing is aligned with who you are. What you’re doing is not aligned with who you are.” That’s it. It’s a presence thing, and then you move from the next thing to the next experience and to the next experience. You’re not attached to avoiding one or recreating one that was amazing.

Our emotional system is an alert system telling us that what you’re doing is aligned with who you are, or what you’re doing is not aligned with who you are.” That’s it.

They’re the different sides of the same coin. We either get attached to avoiding situations that make us have negative emotions or we get attached to trying to recreate circumstances and situations that made us feel positive emotions. The real goal is, I guess you could call it a sense of neutrality, but I prefer to call it “present”. You’re always in the present moment. You’re not trying to avoid or create the conditions to recreate an emotional state.  

All of this is assumed that the person who’s having this experience is not also having a mental health issue that needs to be addressed. This is the conversation for people who have worked through some of the stuff that we all go through. The awareness that there is no mental health issue to be aware of, such as schizophrenia or severe PTSD. To me, that ties back to having that self-awareness. I know it could be very challenging if there’s a mental illness at hand. If you have severe PTSD, it’s not always easy to notice and recognize and say, “I need some help with my mental state of health.” 

Oftentimes they think, “I’m okay”, or “everything is”, okay but having self-awareness and knowing of the mental health issue. We’ve talked about that before, which could be a whole other conversation as it should be. The mental health and the things we’re going through in our society, especially on the political level are creating a lot of mental health issues, especially with COVID that we just went through. I don’t know if it’s still even going on. 

It is. Apparently, there’s another wave coming or already here. 

This has been a fantastic conversation. I think I can talk about this for days on end. I love having these conversations that highlight the human aspect of who we are. What makes us human is the thing that AI doesn’t have. 

We didn’t even get into that. The AI thing is interesting. There are two things in the world right now going on that seem to be dominating a lot of the news cycle outside of the normal political stuff that is always with us. That is the possibility that alien life is actually interacting with human beings. I think everyone can conclude that in a universe of two trillion galaxies the probability there’s another life out there is pretty damn high. There’s no mystery there, there’s that, and then there’s AI. 

We should probably have a separate conversation to touch on both of those because both of those things are challenging. Our understanding of our relationship to ourselves as human beings and to each other is making us wrestle with what it means to be human. I couldn’t think of a better time to be doing the work we do at TMIC with Whole Life Architecture and all the things we do around what is the essence of being a human being and how you fully integrate and align yourself to who you authentically are, versus the “conditioning” you’ve been trained to believe as to who you are from friends, family, community as you were growing up. 

We pick it up. We are automatically conditioned by those around us and by circumstance. When you flip it you’re no longer outwardly focused and in reaction to all of those people and those circumstances. Instead, you are looking at, “who am I authentically”? You get curious about the question that Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland. When the caterpillar says to Alice, “Who are you?” Socrates even said, “Know Thyself” and “The unexamined life is not worth living”. That’s what there is to do. It’s to shift from being a “human DOings back into a “human BEings”. 

In order to do that you have to know who the human being is. AI and aliens are making us question a lot of the old tropes and perspectives we had on what it was to be a human being and our role in the universe. Are we the most intelligent thing? Are we now creating a superintelligence that’s more intelligent than us? What does that mean for us? What is the essence of being human when AI can pretty much do everything that we do? What do we need us for? It’s a conversation for another time, but definitely a big one to delve into for sure. 

I’m looking forward to that conversation. 

September, it’s been fascinating, as usual, having this conversation. We hope all of you who are tuning in enjoyed it. We encourage you to tune in for another conversation on The Most Important Conversations. We’ll see you next time. 

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