Bestselling Author David Emerald: What It Takes to Be a Leader

David Emerald, bestselling author of The Power of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic), recently discussed what it takes to be a leader in an increasingly complex and challenging world at the Native Edge Institute in Seattle on August 23. The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development hosted its second Native Edge Institute at the Microsoft Corporation Headquarters in Redmond, Washington, in partnership with Arctic IT, a Doyon, Limited company. Bruce Hellen, President of Arctic IT, invited Emerald to speak at the event. Everyone who attended Emerald’s presentation received a copy of his book, The Power of TED.

At the Native Edge Institute, Emerald introduced “the empowerment dynamic,” a.k.a. TED, his model for shifting one’s mindset from problem reactive to outcome orientation.

“It’s about upgrading our internal operating system to a more passion-based, desire-based or outcome-based way of being—and that’s much easier said than done,” Emerald acknowledged to Native Business Magazine™.

That same life principle of focusing on desired outcomes—as opposed to getting hung up on the roadblocks and problems—translates to business and organizational leadership success, Emerald explained. That’s exactly what he addresses in the 3 Vital Questions: Transforming Workplace Drama, his book scheduled for release in early 2019.

A frequent guest presenter and facilitator on leadership topics, Emerald often begins his speeches by introducing the audience to the Dreaded Drama Triangle.

First described by Dr. Stephen Karpman in the late 1960s, the Drama Triangle roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer, and their interplay vividly describe the most common strategies human beings use to manage their fear and anxiety. Renamed the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™ in David Emerald’s book, The Power of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic), the DDT aptly describes the toxic nature of these roles. All three of the roles have their roots in the Problem Orientation and focus on what they don’t want or don’t like. Each role also sees the others as problems to react to.

While best comprehended by reading The Power of TED, in a nutshell, the three drama triangle roles of Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer can be unpacked like so:

  • Victims feel powerless and at the mercy of life’s events and may avoid taking responsibility for their actions, finding it easier to blame others or their circumstances.
  • Persecutors can be either people or conditions (such as a health condition) or a situation (such as a natural disaster).
  • Rescuers look for Victims to save. By fixing and saving others, a Rescuer believes others will appreciate and value them for their good deeds. When a Rescuer does not feel valued, they take on the Victim orientation.

Every individual has played each of these roles in their lifetime, though most people are predisposed to operating from one orientation, such as Victim.

Emerald emphasized the importance of distinguishing between victimization and victimhood. “Victimization is situational. We all, as human beings, experience victimization from time to time. The Native American community has been so victimized over the centuries. There’s absolutely no denial about victimization. But that’s distinct from victimhood. To me, victimhood is an identity, a way of being. This work [the empowerment dynamic, a.k.a. TED] challenges victimhood while acknowledging the reality of victimization.”

It takes vulnerability to acknowledge one’s role in the Dreaded Drama Triangle, Emerald explains in his book. Once a person is aware of the dysfunction of those roles (victim, perpetrator and rescuer), it’s time to embrace alternatives. “When one truly recognizes and accepts how the dreaded drama triangle has played out in their relationships, it’s time to seize the opportunity to reorient,” Emerald told Native Business Magazine.

TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)™ is a positive alternative to the Drama Triangle.

  • Creator is the central role in TED*(*The Empowerment Dynamic), which taps into an inner state of passion. Directed by intention, a Creator is focused on a desired outcome, propelling the person to take.
  • Challenger is focused on learning and growth, holding a Creator accountable while encouraging learning, action, and next steps. A Challenger consciously builds others up, as a positive alternative to putting someone down by criticizing, blaming, or controlling. The role of Challenger is the alternative to the drama triangle role of Persecutor.
  • A coach offers compassion and questions to help a Creator develop a vision and action plan. A Coach provides encouragement and support, in place of “rescuing” actions. The role of coach is the alternative to the drama triangle role of Rescuer.

“I characterize The Power of TED as a story of self-leadership about how we lead our own lives, which is an important, foundational value. The way we lead our own lives has everything to do with the quality of leadership we bring to our organizations, tribes, families, communities, etc.,” Emerald said.

Similarly, businesses and organizations can shift from conflict-ridden relationships focused on problems to an empowering dynamic that prioritizes working toward positive outcomes.

Emerald recommends approaching organizational cultural transformation by consider three vital questions.

3 Vital Questions:

  1. Where are you placing your focus? Do teams or individuals focus on reacting to problems or on creating outcomes/results?
  2. How are you relating to others and organizational realities? Does the way of relating for teams or organizations produce or perpetuate “drama”or do they empower others, teams and the organization to be resourceful, resilient and innovative?
  3. What actions are you (and the organization or team) taking? Are actions merely reactions to the problems-of-the-day or are they generative in creating outcomes and results, while solving problems in service of the organization’s mission and vision?

Emerald spoke with Native Business Magazine about how to achieve this mindset shift—from victim to creator—across a company or tribal government. If a leader finds herself in a heated conversation or in a drama situation, Emerald recommends that rather than just reacting to the person or the situation at hand, the individual pause and ask, “What’s the outcome we really want?”

Hitting the pause button creates the opportunity for a mindset shift that’s outcome-oriented. “That’s thinking like a Creator, not a Victim,” Emerald explained. Taking that approach also meets the other person one is interacting with as a Creator. From there, you leverage action and service to achieve outcomes, rather than just reacting to problems.

“One deep bias I have is that we are all leaders. Even if it’s about: How do we lead our own lives? I don’t see leadership necessarily on an organization chart so to speak. I think, in a meeting, that anyone should or could say, ‘What a minute, time out, I just want to pause and ask, What’s the outcome that we’re really working toward?’ That sounds like a soft question, but most of the time, that shifts the focus and energy of the group,” Emerald said.

If the group is really stuck, another variation of that question is: “If we were able to magically solve this problem, what would it allow us to do or be?”

Emerald clarified this strategy further: “I’m not at all denying that problems exist. But the real question is: How do these problems stand in relationship to what we really care about?”

“Do you see how that can really help facilitate a powerful, although maybe subtle shift, from what we don’t want to what we do want?” Emerald asked.

Visualizing the Desired Outcome

Emerald also recommends businesses and organizations engage the “hearts and minds” of everyone involved in the change process through visualization.

That practice actually stems from Disney Land corporate’s manifestation techniques. “When they are brainstorming a theme park or aspect of a theme park, they do this five-sensing. They will envision and do storyboarding. They absolutely spend time with all five senses. If we were living in that vision, what would the embodiment of that be?” Emerald asked.

“When we’re [Bainbridge Leadership Center] working more deeply with a leadership team, we have them brainstorm an envisioned outcome, including qualities and characteristics of an envisioned outcome. We will sometimes take them through all five senses,” Emerald said. “If you had your envisioned outcome, what would you be seeing, what would you be hearing, what you feel, what would it taste like, what would it smell like?”

Emerald is a frequent guest presenter and facilitator on leadership topics, building collaboration and various applications of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) ™ frameworks. He’s also the co-founder of the Bainbridge Leadership Center in Bainbridge Island, Wash. Emerald serves as a senior consultant for The Leadership Circle and as a consultant with the Full Circle Group. He is an Executive Coach and on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business (Executive Education) flagship Executive Integral Leadership Program. Previously, David served as Consulting Director of Bank One Corporation’s Learning and Leadership Development, among numerous other previously held positions.