Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Hijacked amygdalas, and other primitive concerns

Written by: on September 20, 2018

I settled into 12D, my economy class seat on the Toronto-Miami flight this morning, and pulled out my book, Judith Glaser’s Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, reading the chapter on how the amygdala can be hijacked. Next to me was a woman who was breathing heavily, clenching her fists, clearly stressed. I broke one of my foundational rules of airplane travel and popped my privacy bubble: “Are you a nervous flyer?” Sandra replied in the affirmative, and I began applying lessons learned in the book[1] as I attempted to reframe, refocus, and redirect her mind to more pleasant thoughts of her son and places she enjoyed travelling to. We ended up having a life-giving conversation all the way down the Eastern Seaboard.

This week’s book by Glaser exists as proof that combining two formerly unjoined words, developing a pop psychology with handy mnemonics applicable for business contexts, and marketing the hell out of them will bring fame, profit, and thrust you to the top of Google’s search engine[2]. Just like David Livermore who coined “Cultural Intelligence” and also developed his own certification program for companies[3], Glaser has established a niche by which she dominates the field. The definition of entrepreneur is one who creates a need where none formerly existed; now, companies like Union Carbide[4], New Wave Entertainment[5], and Proctor & Gamble’s subsidiary Clairol[6] gladly pay Glaser to assist them in overcoming stuck communications patterns of Tell-Sell-Yell for greater collaborative partnerships that smooth human resources internally and produce profit externally. My hat is off to Ms. Glaser.

What Glaser is marketing is simple. Learning to listen, surrendering agendas, starting with humility, and understanding that success comes with win-win, not win-lose. She coins new terms and uses acronyms to allow for easy recall, and her approach is memorable and useful for any student of leadership. The framework for her method is summarized in a “Conversational Dashboard” which urges leaders to move toward Level III listening for sharing and discovering together and away from Tell-Ask Level I conversations.

These “Conversational Makeovers” assist in helping people move from self-protection to partnership through using the “TRUST Checklist”:

  • Being Transparent
  • Focusing on building Relationships, respect, and rapport before focusing on the task
  • Listening more deeply to Understand others’ perspectives
  • Focusing on Shared success, rather than only on self-interest
  • Truth-telling and testing assumptions about reality gaps[7]

These skills are useful as I settled into a Miami conference for The Gathering, the premier annual conference for evangelical family philanthropy[8]. This private event is open to families giving over $200,000 per year to charitable causes and has an average attendance of over 400. Plenaries and breakout workshops are focused on topics of interest which align with my research, including:

  • “What is Next?” – An intergenerational conversation about changes in giving priorities
  • “Dynamics of Family Philanthropy in an Age of Entitlement” – Preventing and resolving family entitlement attitudes with John Townsend, PhD

The Saturday afternoon of The Gathering will be a sidebar event which will have good applicability to my field research. The Praxis Nonprofit Accelerator Finale Event will feature next generation leaders who are being awarded for their innovative social innovation startups. Finding ways for new generations to explore philanthropy in a hands-on way is essential for continuity of the giving ethos in families.

Of even greater usefulness is the opportunity to interact casually with different generations in families of wealth, something that will occur liberally over meals and during breaks. My attendee profile states “I’m interested in talking about how families prepare next generations for foundation leadership.” The one question I propose to ask broadly is: “Have you made any concrete plans to transfer leadership of your philanthropy to next generations in your family? If so, what?” The purpose of these anecdotal interactions is to confirm the direction I am taking with my research and to spark new fruitful ways of thinking about the problem through random sampling of attendee feedback.

Talking about one’s wills and what will happen to the estate when one dies is an uncomfortable topic for most. Many wealth creators have not had the conversation with their own offspring, so why would they share this with me? Each family chooses a strategy whether it is articulated or not. Some families choose to ignore the inevitable succession to future generations. Others minimize the problem and with rose-colored glasses assume all will be well; some spiritualize the pathways to solution and defer to God to work it all out. Many make assumptions of their families which are not accurate; there is a lack of meaningful conversations to verify the assumptions. Sometimes concrete plans are developed by wealth creators and are even legally binding on descendants, yet future generations have not been brought into the decision-making process, nor do they even know what awaits them in their legacy from the founders. Alternatively, there are other families that make detailed written plans for empowerment and have developed an action plan for training and building capacity to younger generations.

Building conversational agility, à la Glaser, will be necessary. Truth-telling only comes after relationships are built, and agendas are tabled. But I hope to report back that often it takes just a simple – but intentional – conversational approach, kind and supportive, to assist others into greater definition about their own God-given calling and future plans, surrendered to Him.


[1] Judith E. Glaser, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Brookline, MA: Bibliomotion, Books + media, 2014), 123-125.

[2] See https://www.google.ca/search?q=conversational+intelligence&oq=conversational+intelligence&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.6037j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8.

[3] David A. Livermore, Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success (New York: American Management Association, 2010).

[4] Glaser, 62-63, 66-67.

[5] Glaser, 120-121.

[6] Glaser, 92-99.

[7] Glaser, 95.

[8] The Gathering website, http://www.thegathering.com.

About the Author

Mark Petersen

Mark Petersen is the CEO of Stronger Philanthropy, a Canadian firm specializing in maximizing family philanthropy. He leads a diverse group of visionary individuals, foundations and organizations to collaborate in leveraging wealth for charitable impact.

7 responses to “Hijacked amygdalas, and other primitive concerns”

  1. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Mark,

    I absolutely love your dissertation topic! As you were writing about wills, I was wondering what your experience was with percentage of “philanthropy minded” people who do not have one? I spent the last five years helping kind people write hundreds and hundreds of wills…

    Well written, and I look forward to talking with you more on the other side of the world.
    Thanks for your kindness and expertise, you are a blessing!

    • Mark A Petersen says:

      My guess is that most of them would have a will. If they have a competent financial advisor (which is likely), then their advisor would ensure they had through through their legacy issues and put things in writing.

  2. Great insight, Mark!

    I love how to bring application into the mix right off the bat. I can only imagine the scene. I thought it was interesting that you noted Glasser’s marketing tactics and spoke of her influence as a consultant. Working with companies is never easy; however, listening always leads to healthy leadership.

    You mention, “Finding ways for new generations to explore philanthropy in a hands-on way is essential for continuity of the giving ethos in families.” Amen! Conversational Intelligence seeks to understand the cultural context of people and then construct environments for exchange of thought. The conference sounds like an amazing opportunity to not only gain insight from the speakers but gain insight from the audience members. What have you found is different when working with various generations in regard to philanthropy and giving?

    • Mark A Petersen says:


      Stick around long enough and you’ll hear a lot of my thoughts around how philanthropy is different for millennials vs builders and boomers! 🙂 While I have builder and boomer clients, I’m really trying to move my focus towards younger givers – creating a community of trust and support for them, and offering collaborative models of philanthropy.

  3. Way to go on the counseling session on your last flight, sounds like you’re a natural…good thing you were not on the Boxers and Saints book :-). Look forward to seeing you in HK.

  4. Greg says:

    Hi Mark, I loved you started you blog on a plane. What is a privacy bubble 🙂 I have been in Asia too long.

    I found Glaser overly obvious and simplistic. I told my wife “I can’t believe she has made lots of money on this book, it obvious stuff.” To which she responded, “to you, it is not obvious to everyone else”. Great use of your natural skills with the lady next to you on the plane. Also I appreciated you use of the seminars you were a part of as a way to talk about your project.

  5. Kyle Chalko says:

    Mark, highlight was learning more about your ministry. Amazing stuff you r doing! In your field, which deals directly with wealthy peoples large sums of money, building trust is absolutely necessary!

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