Erica Ariel Fox: What if the Problem Is You? How to Win from Within

Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights at the Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name’s Tami Simon, I’m the founder of Sounds True, and I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available. We want everyone to have access to transformational tools such as mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion, regardless of financial, social, or physical challenges. The Sounds True Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing these transformational tools to communities in need, including at-risk youth, prisoners, veterans, and those in developing countries. If you’d like to learn more or feel inspired to become a supporter, please visit

You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Erica Ariel Fox. Erica Ariel Fox is the author of the New York Times bestseller Winning from Within: A Breakthrough Method for Leading, Living, and Lasting Change. She’s a teacher, a trusted advisor to CEOs, a modern-day mythologist, and a public intellectual. She writes a column for Forbes on the inner life of leaders and teaches the negotiation course at Harvard Law School. She’s also joined the faculty of the Inner MBA, which is a nine-month certificate program that begins in September that Sounds True is producing in partnership with LinkedIn, Wisdom 2.0, and a division of NYU called MindfulNYU. Erica Ariel Fox will be teaching a special Inner MBA accelerator workshop on conscious negotiation, “Winning from Within.” And if you want to learn more about this program, please visit us at And now it’s my great delight to be able to introduce you to Erica Ariel Fox and the framework, the method she’s developed for Winning from Within, a way to really further the development of conscious leadership in the world today. Here’s my conversation with Erica Ariel Fox:

Erica, I first heard about you through your work at the Harvard program on negotiation, and learned that you were working in collaboration with William “Bill” Ury and the late Roger Fisher, who wrote the landmark book Getting to Yes—I think many of us have read and heard of that book—Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. And I’m curious to know right here at the beginning, how your work evolved, how you came to write the book Winning from Within, taking an inner approach to negotiation. How did that work evolve for you?


Erica Ariel Fox: Well, first let me just say that I’m super happy to have been invited to participate in this. And more importantly, I feel really thrilled to participate in the Inner MBA program, which I find so inspiring and such an amazing contribution precisely in the bullseye of what the culture needs right now. So I’m very, very touched to be involved with that program.


TS: Wonderful.


EAF: So yes, exactly what you said. I graduated from Harvard law school in 1995, and I started teaching there in 1996. And that happened to have been a moment when Roger Fisher, the late Roger Fisher, was really at a place in his career that he was looking for proteges. He wasn’t really retiring, but he had an eye on legacy and he was thinking, “I need a few people who are going to really build on this and carry on.” And I just had the unbelievable blessing and privilege to be there at the right time.

I got very involved with the Harvard Negotiation Project and really steeped to the beginning of my career, working with Getting to Yes, working with those ideas—which I can talk more about—teaching those ideas. I was again, just incredibly blessed. I mean, when I think back on it, it’s unbelievable how that worked. Life put me there with those incredible people.

So we traveled around the world and we taught some of the core ideas, which I’m sure you and probably a lot of people listening here know about with win-win solutions. And one of the core ideas in getting to yes is the idea of separating the people from the problem. And what they meant by that is that if you’re having a conflict—even interpersonally or between countries and an armed conflict—rather than seeing the other side as the problem, you could somehow step to the side, and together the two parties look at the problem.

And at the time, this was a very revolutionary idea—as opposed to all competition, win-lose, he idea that you could do joint problem solving by separating the people from the problem. And I was able to work with those people. And I did that for a bunch of years. And then we all found that we got the same question over and over, which is, “What do I do if the people are the problem? I can’t separate the people from the problem because my coworker is the problem.” And that is the material that gave rise to Difficult Conversations, which was published in 1999. And those are some of my best friends, and I spend a lot of time with them also teaching, traveling, doing workshops with companies, and governments, and nonprofits. 

And in a series of situations, which I can also tell you about, I ended up taking a year off pretty early in my career. Just really not working at all, working on personal, and family, and spiritual development. And I started thinking about this question we get—what if the other people are the problem? And I came to believe and sort of make sense of my experiences teaching that the most important question I, “What if I am the problem?” If I’m the problem and not the other side, I’m getting in my own way, and therefore I’m making this conflict much worse, I’m the source of the problem. It’s my lack of mindfulness, my lack of maturity, my lack of inner wisdom, my lack of resources and strengths inside of myself. That’s the problem. And to take people on a journey of investigating their own inner experience and how that is contributing to the breakdowns in their life, or just the lack of pursuing opportunities in their life, that—then that became my real pursuit in terms of research and teaching, and became a huge journey for me. That was really started in 2000, 2001.


TS: Well, let’s just pause here for a moment. Let’s say someone’s listening, and they have a difficult negotiation in their life with someone else. And their response is, “Wait, I’m not the problem. It really is this other person, Erica. Believe me, it’s this other person. They’re not prepared to make this move, ‘What if I’m the problem?’ They don’t see it that way.” What would you say?


EAF: I honestly think a lot of people are aware that they are unable to blame other people; they’re unable to hold everyone else responsible and not themselves, but they just don’t understand how they’re contributing to the problem. So I work with mostly very senior executives in different kinds of businesses. And these are folks who’ve had feedback, 360s, executive coaches. I mean, they’ve been being told for years that they need to take accountability, and they understand that they’re contributing to the problems that they’re having. And again, they just have no understanding—in good faith, no understanding of what that means. Or when people give them feedback like, “You need to be more authentic. You need to be more of an inspirational leader. People need to feel that you care for them.” They hear that, but they have no idea what to do with it.

So I guess one answer is a lot of the people I work with do have some incentive for developing themselves. I guess if you really don’t see your role at all, I would invite someone to look at the conflicts over the course of their lives where they see a pattern. Like, “I remember in that situation, I couldn’t make a decision. And in this situation I couldn’t make a decision. And this situation, or in that situation, I ran away from conflict, and here and there.” If you look at a whole series of breakdowns over time, you can notice that the situation and the facts change, but your role in those breakdowns does not change. Because you have a pattern interacting over, and over, and over. And in each case, I’m sure you could find someone to blame. You could find someone who was really the problem. But if you’re willing to look, you’ll find certain ways that your behavior and mindset, if didn’t cause it, it certainly contributed to it or worsened it.


TS: OK, I’m with you, and I believe our Insights at the Edge listeners are with you too. And they’re willing to investigate, “What if I’m the problem?” Now right here at the beginning, I’d love to know what you mean by the word “winning.” When we talk about Winning from Within, what does it mean to win?


EAF: That’s a great question. I thought about that title a lot, and it comes from my sense of purpose to be somewhat of a bridge between spirituality and psychology and mindfulness on the one hand, with business, executives, corporate business culture on the other. So I was starting from “Maybe this is where you guys live,” my potential audience. “You want to win. You want to be first. You want to get the most, do it the fastest. And I’m suggesting you can get the results that you want by working on yourself. So if that’s where you want to reach, you can do this by working within.” And by the time you get through the book or at least through an experiential process, you would have a different sense of what winning means. But winning is at least the thing that might get you to pick up the book.

I think by the end of working with the material, people do broaden their sense of winning from just results to stronger relationships, and equally to life’s most important rewards. They say, “Winning means purpose, winning means meaning, legacy.” And they broaden what winning means to them.


TS: OK. Erica, tell us about the core framework that you offer in Winning from Within, and also how you developed it. Both.


EAF: Well, I’ll do it in reverse order. So I had been teaching—I mentioned before, I’ve been teaching at Harvard Law School and I’ve been teaching a whole bunch of different workshops. And what I found was we started to discover—I was teaching an executive education program, and in those years we used to teach every summer. At that time, we were focusing on behaviors and coaching people on behaviors. But we had a lot of very skilled people, and I thought continuing to give them just behavioral coaching can’t be helpful, because they already know how to do a lot of things.

So one of the stories that I often about, when I just had been out of law school a couple of years, I had someone in my group who was a Supreme Court justice. I was not ready or prepared for him—not from the United States—to be in my group, that I was supposed to give him some kind of coaching. 


TS: Mmm-hmm (affirmative).


EAF: Exactly. And he showed up to the exercise and each person can ask whatever they want to ask for coaching. And he said, “I want help asking my wife not to pick out my ties.” And this was a genuine question that he brought to the Harvard Negotiation Project. And I kept thinking in my mind all of the things we usually coach people to do. Which is not bad, but behavioral coaching, like, “Do you want to ask her not to do that? Do you want to say what you would prefer?” I mean, of course he could think of doing those things on his own. He obviously has assertiveness skills. But I got curious about, what is in the way of him just saying that? What is in the way of making a request, or setting a boundary? And what happens over time is you start to realize, “Actually, I can say and do these things, but something inside of me is preventing me from doing it.” 

So that’s what actually becomes interesting. What’s in the way inside of you—or in this case, inside of him—that makes doing the skills you know how to do in theory, difficult to do in practice? So then I started really building on that with my work at the law school, and I created a program called the Harvard Negotiation Insight Initiative in 2002, and ran that for about five years. And that was an enormous experimental laboratory of bringing together a huge range of cross-disciplinary faculty. From spiritual traditions, poets, creative artists, leadership experts, business best practice people. And we all co-taught together and we were just making it up as we went along. There wasn’t a curriculum, we were just making it up.

And after five years of doing that and hundreds and hundreds of people came to that program, Winning from Within started to come into shape, started to come together—sort of combining negotiation and leadership best practices with deeper wisdom; either ancient wisdom or current wisdom like neuroscientific wisdom. And ever since then, I’ve become really convinced that insight-based change can only go so far. You can understand how you’re getting in your own way, you can have the idea or get the idea in a feedback session. But if there’s no internal felt experience, things are not likely to change. And that’s where I started to really get curious about teaching about the inner life and how that creates the results that people get. And that’s where the dynamic development opportunity is, because that’s where your behavior change is going to come from, shifting something inside.


TS: And so you developed this framework for Winning from Within, and it has seven elements. And it’s interesting—at first, when I started looking at this, I was like, “This is really complicated.” But after I became a little familiar with it, I thought this is actually a pretty simple vocabulary—inner vocabulary if you will, or inner system—that I can understand. It’s not that hard. So I want our listeners to get it. So go ahead and introduce them to the framework.


EAF: Yes, it is really not that hard. And part of the reason why I designed this system is that in business context, I’m sure many people listening in their own work context get told to develop self-awareness. But nobody will give you a map of yourself, and very few organizations give you an understanding of what is awareness. So how can you get self-awareness with no understanding of yourself or what awareness even means? 

So the Winning from Within system is intended as a user-friendly map of yourself. And because I started studying mythology and depth psychology, I started thinking about Joseph Campbell’s, “You are a hero with a thousand faces.” And I thought a thousand was really a lot. So I appreciate, Tami, that you see that I’ve boiled it down to four, Big Four. The Big Four out of the seven elements that I’ll tell you.

These are parts that everyone has inside of themselves. That’s the key idea, which we can talk about much more. The first one, which I think of in terms of a business sense, would be like a CEO, but in deeper terms is your Dreamer. And your dreamer is interested in vision, in possibility, uses creativity, comes from a sense of joy, senses the future with intuition. The Thinker—which I analogize to a CFO in a business—the Thinker is about using rationality, facts, logic, thinking things through in terms of problem-solving, has a power of rationality. Managing risk.The Lover is a third one, somewhat like a CHRO in a business. And the Lover, as you would imagine, is where your emotional intelligence lives. Your ability to collaborate, to cooperate, to build trust, to repair trust if it’s broken, to develop people, all of those things. The Chief Operating Officer is the Warrior. The Warrior is about getting things done, and taking action, and execution, and implementation and willpower. 

So what I often say to people, which I think is a simple way to think about the Big Four, especially if you’re in a business environment, is you imagine what a team would look like if it had a CEO, a CFO, a CHRO, and a COO. That’s your outer team, but you have an inner team just like that with your own inner Dreamer, Thinker, Lover, and Warrior. And because these are archetypal energies, or selves, or parts of the self, it is actually incredibly easy for people to get it either in reading the book, or coming to a workshop, because people know what those things are. You know what a Dreamer inside of yourself imagines, or you know that your Lover draws on your heart and your feelings.

So these are the Big Four that I think of as the core. And if that’s a top team, there’s also a Board of Directors. And the Board of Directors have somewhat of an oversight function. And there are three directors: that’s the Lookout, the Captain, and the Voyager. The Lookout is a mindful observer, is a witness that can step back out of your experience. If you’re very connected to your Warrior or to your Thinker, the Lookout can just observe and notice that you’re doing that. The Lookout gives that information to your Captain, who is a part of you that can make choices, but also can connect to a deeper intelligence, a deeper sort of orienting system of your values, of your principles. And the Voyager, which is the part of you that’s learning over time in terms of development, seeing patterns that you have and learning ways to grow as a human being. So you wouldn’t be grappling ideally with the same parts of life 10 years later, once you understood that your Voyager was growing and learning.

The reason that’s important is because so many people believe or have been taught by the time they’re 50, or 40, or 60, that they just are who they are. There’s nowhere to go from that. And we know that’s not true. Both from psychology and from neuroscience, that’s of course not true. So encouraging people further along in their career that they’re still a living, growing, developing organism is very helpful. 

So it’s the Dreamer, Thinker, Lover, and Warrior, who are supervised by the Lookout, Captain, and Voyager.


TS: OK, well, there’s a lot here.


EAF: Yes. I was going to say you—I’m quite sure can hear, that is my attempt to actually take a wide range of deep spiritual, and soulful, and wisdom-cultivating practices, and translate them in a way that business people can explore their inner life in a safe way.


TS: OK. So there’s a whole lot here, and there are several things I want to talk to you further about in terms of understanding the Winning from Within system. But before we do, I want to address that listener who might be thinking, “Oh gosh, another system. Another system to understand. All these systems are so partial, and they kind of seem to work a little, but how effective are they?” And what would you say to that person at this point in our conversation?


EAF: I would say I think that systems and frameworks and models have been evolving for the last 30 years. From the early Fifth Discipline years through—now that I’m thinking, I’m not going to go through all the different frameworks, but to say we understand a lot more now than we used to about how adult development works. And it’s true that there are certain frameworks that are a set of ideas, and there are certain frameworks that are a set of behaviors. Like, “You should make I-statements” or “You should listen actively.” And behaviors and frameworks can only take you so far. My experience with Winning from Within is that because it’s profoundly interpersonal. It’s examining your own beliefs, thoughts, feelings, fears, impulses to take action, the way you understand yourself and your role in the world. Because of that, it’s an infinitely interesting and infinitely developmental path. You’d have to be really uninterested in yourself and in life to find this rote or to find it mechanical.


TS: OK. Once again, the Insights at the Edge listeners, right with you Erica. They are interested. [Erica laughs] You’re so good at answering my skeptical questions. I really enjoy it. Talking to someone from the Harvard Negotiation Project, challenging her, just joking with you. [Erica laughs

  1. So we have this top team. And you write in the book that research shows us that most of us rely on one or two of these members of our top team, and tend to overlook one, if not the other two. That’s very interesting to me. How do you help people move into the ones that they tend to ignore? And is the goal that all four members of the top team are fully online and contributing in a situation, in a difficult situation?


EAF: Great questions. The first is almost everyone who comes to a workshop for the first time has an over-identification with one or two of these parts. So what will happen—and probably some of the people listening you can say to yourself, “When I hear these four, I know I’m a Lover. I’m a total Lover,” or “I’m a Thinker/Warrior. I don’t do the Lover/Dreamer. I’m a strong Thinker/Warrior.” And what the Big Four is wanting to say to that stance is if you’re a human and you’re alive, you can’t be a thinker or a feeler. You think and you feel. You can’t be a Warrior and not a Dreamer. And neuroscience mapping of the brain says the same thing, that the four different quadrants roughly create the neural pathways that do these four things. 

So the first step is sort of decoupling my sense of myself and who I am with one of these four, and starting to notice even if I don’t use one or two or three of these capacities very often in my life, I am a living, breathing, human being, and I have an inborn innate capability to dream, and think, and love, and do things.

And that’s really important. That’s why I invite people, if you have to stand somewhere—and I’m more thinking in general, we’re just evolving and living, and there’s not really a fixed self to stand on, but let’s say if we needed a fixed self, we could say, be the Voyager, identify with the Voyager, and see yourself as that evolving self and understand that those four are in you no matter what. What was your second question, Tami?


TS: Yes. Well, I think one of the questions I have is what are the dangers if we over-identify with one or two members of this top team and we don’t embrace all four? And then my second question had to do with, how do you help people really animate all four members of the top team? You say it’s in us, but how do we do that?


EAF: So this is again, part of my work is with senior leaders, senior managers. But I think this would be true about almost anyone. You don’t really want to outsource one of the core human capabilities that you are born with. So sure, you could make a team and say, “I’m strong at this. And I surround myself with other people who have these capabilities.” That’s great. That’s a good idea. But at some point, I would challenge you to say, “OK, I did that for a while. And now if I take myself seriously, and certainly if I’m stepping into a leadership role, I want to be able to call on any of those four.”

And the reason that’s important is if you’re not purposeful and intentional, you’re going to be on autopilot and say, “OK well, this is how I lead. I’m tough on people and I’m good with numbers.” And you’ll meet a situation where—certainly as an example, being COVID—people need inspiration that it’s going to be OK. They need to be met emotionally, that you care about them, that you’re aware that people are scared. They need to know that you’re staying on top of things—in terms of research, are we learning what’s happening with the CDC regulations. And they need to know that you have a Warrior and you are making sure if people need to at home, they go home. And if they need hand sanitizer, they have it.

And there are situations that call on one, or two, or all of the Big Four. And if you have only developed either a sense of self or a capability internally, and therefore a skillset of one or two, you will be very poorly fit for the range of leadership situations that you have to meet. 

So the benefit of it is to say, “I don’t work on autopilot. Over the course of a day if I have seven meetings, I might call on different members of the Big Four based on what’s needed at this moment, what’s fit for purpose at this meeting.” And I believe any person who takes themselves seriously in a leadership role wants that versatility and inner flexibility, and without a doubt, will hit moments where they’re absolutely misdirecting themselves in their leadership because they have disowned one of these basic Big Four.


TS: I think it would be interesting—you work as a trusted advisor to CEOs and leaders. If you could give me an example of a leader who was clearly deficient in one of these areas and how you worked with that person. So that that capacity came online.


EAF: That’s a great question. I think an example that comes in my mind, but it’s also sort of a prototype example because I’ve seen it so many times. I’m sure you have. Certain people who have a certain level of corporate power, corporate authority can also develop an almost bully-ish, tyrannical, overly aggressive expression of themselves. And they may or may not even know that they’re doing that. And in my framework, that would be someone who’s working with an inflated Warrior, and probably a deflated Lover.

So I see a lot of people who are described as intimidating, people who are described as unfeeling. And one of the ways that I work with those people, and I tend to work in groups, is give them assignments like maybe carry around an egg for the next few days. Or carry around a small little stuffed animal. Something that needs tenderness, gentleness, that you relate to it, understanding it’s very fragile. Not a hard-boiled egg, just uncooked egg. And ask them to just practice. Practice feeling the care and the regard for this fragile thing, and then tell us how it feels. Sometimes I run into people, I say, “Where’s your egg?” “It’s back in my room.” And I say, “Well that’s not a very protective, loving stance. You have to go get it.”

So helping them recalibrate. You can use your Warrior to protect something, to take care of it, to defend it from the world, but not aggressively. You can do that with gentleness and tenderness. So a lot of what I do is trying to create a felt experience of doing something that is not simply behavioral, but that the behavior will stimulate an inner experience that can help recalibrate some of the inner circuitry. And that works really well.


TS: OK. I absolutely love that example. And a few years ago, I desperately would have needed to carry a little egg around with me. [Erica laughs] I think I might try it just to see how it goes.


EAF: OK, so then if you’re going to do it, if you’re going to do it, the instructions would be—and anyone who wants to practice this should do this. If you take an egg, but then you have to decorate it in some way. Give it a little face and then you can draw on it . . . 


TS: Oh my. 


EAF: . . . you can paste a little feather on it. Yes. You have to build a relationship to it. So now it looks like however you created it. I also invite people to give the egg a name because these are things that are going to evoke a personal connection. So now your a little egg has a name, and it’s decorated, and it evokes almost a personality to you. So you start having feelings about it. 

And then say to yourself, “I’ve got to keep this with me 24 hours a day for the next three days.” And if you really want to challenge yourself, if you have too high of a Warrior, you can invite people who work with you or people who live with you to say, “At any moment, you can ask me where my egg is. And if I don’t have it with me, because that’s not very caring, I have to go get it.”

And over the course of the few days, what I’ve seen many people do—I don’t know if you would do this now. It sounds like you would—is people create a safe little home, a little house for their egg. And it’s so beautiful to see senior executives, C-suite executives, they’ll put little leaves together so the egg can sit in the thing of leaves, or flower petals. They find all sorts of interesting ways while they’re carrying it around to make sure it doesn’t break, or it doesn’t come to harm. Like little cotton balls, I’ve seen people do. But personalizing it is important, giving it a name and giving it a little face. 


TS: No, I get that. 


EAF: Yes, it’s fun!


TS: OK, challenge is on. Now I’m curious to know if somebody is inflated in any of these other areas, if you also have an exercise. Because I think this is so useful.


EAF: So, yes and yes, I would say. When I work with people, I generally give specific exercises to each individual, as opposed to this is sort of formulaic—which is why, when you ask me is there a person that comes to mind, I think sort of this bully executive character who I have encountered many times and I can always pull up my uncooked eggs. But the Dreamer, for example, which is a doorway to creativity and intuition, and play. The doorway to that is joy. And a lot of business people—and maybe some of you are listening or hopefully coming to the Inner MBA program, is to recapture or reaccess a sense of joy and play.

So sometimes in these workshops, I ask people to put together a playlist of just three or four songs that they really find fun to dance to. And if we do an evening session, we can turn down the lights and we can make sort of a little disco party space and use their playlist. And it’s not enough just to put on the music, because they still feel constrained. But what I do, and other faculty, is we’ll say, “OK, someone else is going to lead this dance. And you have to just do what they’re doing physically. You have to follow that person.” And start with very simple moves, like maybe just rocking back and forth or taking a few steps. And little by little, start to sway your hips and start to move your arms. And little by little, build that person’s comfort. And the rest of the group is following also, so they’re not isolated. So the rest of the group is following, and everyone’s starting to move. And by the end of the first song, you can really blast that music and that person finds the support in the group, that might be clapping and encouraging, to really let go and have fun. And they really do. It’s beautiful to watch. And people just look happy. They feel alive, and playful, and free. And that’s part of how we access Dreamer.

You can also do things like Gabrielle Roth 5Rhythms, if you want to just help people move. But that has a different purpose. So this is really specific moving and dancing to access joy, which is part of what creates the freedom of mind to explore the Dreamer.


TS: But Erica, what I’m interested in is if someone is an overinflated Dreamer. I’m thinking of someone that I worked with for a period of time who had incredible visions and future plans, but people on the team were like, “Yeah, those are never going to happen.”


EAF: I would embody almost all of these dynamics. So if I were in a room with people, I would ask—let’s say this Dreamer, this inflated Dreamer. I would give them some recommendations. So I might say, “OK, you are going to take this torch, or this—” whatever tool was available to me to show pointing. “And you’re going to run as fast as you can.” Maybe we’re outside. That would be ideal. “And these other people are going to follow you.” So they would start running, and I would ask the followers not to move. And that of course, that person is running and running with their vision, but no one is following them. And then I would ask each person, “Let’s have some Warriors, let’s have some Lovers, and let’s have some Thinkers, and give reflections back to this person. Why are you not following them?”

And the Thinker might say, “Well, there’s no plan. I don’t know. Are we going in the right direction? Why are we going there? This doesn’t make any sense. I’m not just running through a field.” And the Warrior might say, “How are we going to do this? Is there a budget? Are there resources? Is there a project planned? Is there a timeline?” So each character—the Lover can say, “I don’t feel enlisted with your vision. I don’t feel connected. I don’t feel like you care if I come along or not. I don’t feel like we’re doing this together. I feel like you’re just off and running with your vision. You’re leaving me behind.”

To give an experiential mirror to that person, like, “This is the effect you’re creating in the world. So you’re running along and you’re wondering why people aren’t coming along with you. Well, you’ve just heard from these three other archetypes that any of the people you hope will follow you might be associated with in any given moment. And none of those characters want to follow you. And what do you make of that?” Would be the place I would start.


TS: Very good. I’m starting to really get a feel for the system with these examples. So thank you so much for that. Now, I want to make sure we cover this oversight team that you referred to, functions like the Board of Directors. And you call these the “Transformational Three.” And I wanted to understand why you refer to the Lookout, the Captain, and the Voyager as the Transformational Three. What’s the transformation part?


EAF: For me, this is a way of disidentifying from the Four. So in voice dialogue, for example, which you and I’m sure many listeners know very well, there are these various parts, but there’s an aware ego that is not identified with any of those parts and can serve as a consolidating or integrating function. And many, many different wisdom traditions have different expressions— Internal Family Systems talks about the Self with a capital S, and that you have Managers, and Firefighters, and Exiles, but there’s the Self that has a coordinating function.

So the Board of Directors are ways of separating you from what you could, of course, just call it ego or personality dimensions. I don’t love those words because people get confused by them, so I don’t tend to use them. If the Big Four are different aspects of your ego, let’s say it that way, then these are helping you to make real changes in those four, and because they don’t feel connected or committed to any of them. Any of the members of the Big Four have their own preferences, their own agenda, their own style, their own values. They’re always going to vote for themselves. They’re always going to vote for what they think is best for you to do.

The Transformational Three enable you to change because they don’t have any pressure, or investment, or preferences. They really just want what’s best for you as a human being and as a leader. So the Lookout, who can see what you’re attached to, which of these four, also if it’s inflated or deflated; the Captain, that enables you to make a conscious choice instead of being on autopilot; and the Voyager, which is directing your growth over time. They allow you to actually transform the way you’re living and using or not using your Big Four. Does that make sense, Tami?


TS: It does. And you mentioned something very interesting previously, which is if we were a force to identify with just one quality, you would suggest the Voyager because the Voyager is looking to growth. And this whole notion of having a growth mindset and how that is requirement of leaders today. Tell me what it would mean if my Voyager was fully on in my life, what would that look like?


EAF: OK. Well, I have to say, cause this is such a gimme question. I would take the Sounds True Inner MBA. I would honestly—if my Voyager were full on, I would be radically committed to self-understanding, to raising my … I don’t know if I can loosely say “the adult stages of development,” but I would be wanting to keep growing my consciousness and my skills, my skillset, to be a more mature and more wise human being. Because I would see myself as also—whether it’s as a member of a family, or a community, or as a country, or filling a leadership role in society at large, I would know that the more I work on myself, and develop skills, and build my awareness and my consciousness, that’s how I’m going to fulfill my highest potential to contribute. And I would have an unwavering commitment to that path. And that’s what the Voyager does when he or she is really focusing the attention of a human being.


TS: And then let’s also just talk about the Captain. Because I’m very interested in that. And I noticed as I read about all seven of the elements, I was like, “Yes, I love the Captain.” And you write about the Captain, that the Captain gives a presence and gravitas. And I thought, those are qualities I really like. So how does somebody develop more of that Captain energy?


EAF: That’s a great question. So there are kind of two levels, I would say, to the Captain. One is a practical one, which is, your Captain gets the input of all the members of the team, and your Captain is a part of you that makes a conscious choice. So one way to do that would be to just start noticing and paying attention to—like over the course of a day, you could make yourself a piece of paper with four quadrants, and just keep putting a tick mark over the course of the day. How often are you tapping into each one of these Four? Let’s say do that for a week. And then your Captain can really look at all of that and say to yourself, “Wow, I’m really pretty consistently choosing these two and not these two. So now I practice my Captain muscle of choicefulness next week, because I’m going to make a really intentional effort to practice one of these other two. And if I don’t have any idea how to start, I will look around at people in my organization who operate in a very different way that I do, and I’ll just try to do what they’re doing, or not do what they’re not doing. And see if I can start to get a feel for these other parts.” Because to be a fully capable Captain, you want to have at least a taste or a sense of what each of the Four feels like, thinks like, acts like, so that you have the range at least within these four to start practicing choices. 

So that’s the choice level. The Captain is also the part of you that is your deepest and wisest center. And that is probably a lifetime of therapy, spiritual practice, being in community. I mean, the Captain at a deeper level is operating as the core essence of who you are. And that’s not something you’re going to learn in a workshop or by reading a book. But I’m always toggling back and forth between the sort of more applied, practical way of explaining, way of teaching, the concepts, and then a sort of deeper level. And depending on the audience, there’s a big range in each of these seven parts.

And this was another way that I was inspired by Getting to Yes, because Getting to Yes also talks about the seven elements of negotiating with other people, and I talk about Winning from Within as the seven elements of negotiating with yourself.


TS: I wanted to pick up on what you were saying about being in our center. And you use this phrase, “anchoring in our center.” And I think especially, you talked about the leadership capacities that are needed now during this pandemic, and I think this notion of anchoring in our center and being able to operate from a grounded place of inner stability—I mean, it’s never been more true in terms of what people want and need from leadership. Help me understand how I better anchor in my center using the Board of Directors to help me.


EAF: [Laughs] You know, at the end of this conversation, you can teach Winning from Within.


TS: No, no, not true. I’m just getting into it. And I really like it—


EAF: No, no, you’re all over it.


TS: I got to keep my egg alive for three days and not have a scrambled mess on the floor.


EAF: OK. But you have to name it and dress it. It’s very important. Name it and dress it.


TS: I got that. Yes.


EAF: OK, good. So centering practices are all over the map. I would never tell someone, “This is the centering practice.” Even mindfulness, which is so broadly useful. Also yoga, also Tai Chi, also observing the Sabbath, also prayer, also walking meditation. There’s almost an infinite—Sufi twirling. There’s just an enormous range of traditions, ecstatic traditions, contemplative traditions that enable us to find a place of center where we feel present, and calm, and clear, and grounded. And when I say “anchor in your center,” I mean find help, find books, find teachers. Find a centering practice that works for you that calls you back to the place where you’re not reactive, where you don’t get hooked by other people, you’re not triggered all the time. Find a practice that helps you get to that centered experience, and then practice it. 

I think it’s not totally realistic that everyone says, “Oh, I have my practice. I do it every day.” That’s good advice. But it’s hard to do, I think, for a lot of people, certainly business leaders until they make a firm commitment to it. But having a centering practice and knowing when you feel threatened or upset in some way, or you get bad news, or you’re living in the uncertainty that we’re all living in right now, that your centering practice is available, and you can put yourself in a centered state, state of being, state of mind. That’s an enormously important thing for a leader to be able to do. And it does take practice, and it is a very fascinating process to figure out what’s the practice that works for you. 

I’ve gone on a hundred sitting meditation retreats, and at some point, I have just concluded, I am not a silent sitting meditator. It doesn’t help me get to my own center. And no matter how many times I’ve tried, chanting, singing, ecstatic dance, moving practices are much more effective for me to cut through my mental noise and emotional noise and just become more centered, grounded, more peaceful, more clear. So that’s what I know about the practices that work or don’t work. And having a Sabbath practice is an incredibly centering thing for me over years and decades of my life.


TS: Well, let me ask you a question. So, in terms of working with the Transformational Three and being anchored in the center, one of the things I found—and the Lookout perspective, just being mindful, noticing everything, in my language, it would be entertaining multiple perspectives. As many perspectives as possible.

When I do a lot of intensive meditation practice, which I’ve done over the years, the Lookout function in me is really strong. Really strong. I just can see things from so many different perspectives, inside and outside. But what I notice a result of that intensive meditation practice is that the decisive part of me can be hard to find. Because I’m like, “Well, it could be that, or it could be that. That makes a whole lot of sense, too. And that makes a whole lot of sense too. And I trust however this unfolds.” It’s like, “Wait a second, excuse me. You need to make a decision now.” So part of what I’m really interested in is how the Lookout and the Captain and the Voyager work really well together to support each other.


EAF: Well, what you just said is a Lookout perspective. It is a Lookout that would notice, “Hey, you’re seeing all these perspectives. Great. You’re seeing all these options. You’re giving them equal weight and equal merit. Great. And we need to make a decision. And what I’m noticing right now is the decisive part of you, that decisive intelligence is not online. You’re not tapping into it. So as a Lookout, I’m observing that.” And I’m telling—as a Captain, when I hear that, I think, “Hmm, how can we have both?” How can we have this sort of broad, aware, inside and outside of the whole range of perspectives, and at the same time, we have our choosing, decisive, determining, discerning perspective at the same time? The idea that you would have to choose is part of what Winning from Within is standing against. How could you have them all at the same time?


TS: Now, I think part of what I’m curious about, Erica, is how to actually really engage with this system in real time. It makes sense to me that I can study it, that I could do a bunch of journaling. I might be able to do some assessments. I could do a training. But then how is it that in the moment when I’m involved in something that feels like a difficult negotiation, how do I use this system right there on the spot?


EAF: I think the system is like lots of other systems in that way. If you have read the book, you have some understanding and some basic capacity. If you’ve done a two-day workshop at your organization, you have more than that. You have a little bit of skill and you have more range. And if you’ve done a deep dive experience, you’ve done some real transformation of your inner circuitry and you won’t have to make an effort, actually, because your versatility and flexibility has already been anchored or embedded in you.

So you can start on any of those levels. You can start by, as I said before, just starting to notice where you reside a lot at the time and create little, small-action experiments for yourself. “If I tend to interrupt and I tend to be controlling, just at this meeting, can I try to listen and seek control of where the meeting is going?” Create little action experiments. What’s important about that though, is not just to focus on the behavior, but what did you think, feel, imagine, want to do as you did those experiments? And then there’s many, many more shorthand tools, and skills, and techniques, which I could share with you.


TS: But could you give me an actual example, whether it’s from your own life or from someone, a leader that you’ve worked with, of a difficult negotiation? And how this model came in to help that person create a win-win solution, if you will?


EAF: Yes. Well, the first one that comes to mind actually is a colleague of mine who wrote an article that I thought had quite a lot of my ideas, but didn’t attribute that any of them had come from me or that they had learned them from me. And I really didn’t know what to make of that in terms of intention. But I wrote a very detailed email to that person. And I explicitly said, “Let me share my perspective of each of these four.” And I think I did them in reverse order, but “My Warrior wants to say this and ask this. My Lover wants to say this and ask this. My Thinker wants to say and ask this, my Dreamer wants to say and ask this.”

And what that does is it prevents me from having to make a choice. Like, should I draw a line and tell this person I want them to take it offline? Or should I be a Lover and say “I feel hurt, and disrespected, I feel angry?” Well, all of those things are true. I can say, “I imagine we could collaborate together in a different way.” But I don’t have to choose. Because all of those, like you were just saying, all of those perspectives are present. And even if you don’t make it explicit—this colleague and I had this common language. You don’t need to make it explicit. You can just say, “I have a range of perspectives on this, and I want to share them with you. One, two, three, four.” And you get a chance to express more fully the range of your perspective. And that could be true in any negotiation or any conversation. Now, I do that all the time. You can do a lot with this also in a very shorthand way. 

Another way we haven’t talked about to access these things is if you imagine yourself as someone who does one of these things really well that you don’t. And that could be a living person, it could be a person who’s passed away, it could be someone from a movie or literature, it could be a fictional character. Any of those. If I would imagine, how would that person handle this negotiation or difficult conversation, what would that person say? People have an amazing access to what somebody else would do or say. Like, “If I wanted to be like my sister Karen, here’s what she would say.” In other words, people know how to play those characters. They just don’t know that they can or should. People know, “If I want to practice being tough, I’m going to be Erin Brockovich and I’m going to be Julia Roberts, and I’m going to demand this kind of settlement.”And I invite people to think about who can be your exaggerated role model? Whether it’s a human, or it comes from any of these places that someone who’s a songwriter, and call on that person. 

So there is someone in our organization named Karen who is extremely competent, very detail-oriented, she’s great at follow-through—all things that I am terrible at. [Laughs] And sometimes I sit at my desk and I’m watching myself procrastinate, and I’m watching myself go downstairs and make more coffee. I literally say to myself, “OK, if I’m Karen, what would I do?” And then I just think, “OK, I’m going to just practice being Karen.” Because she has such a centered Warrior, which I don’t. She just calmly, decisively ticks off her tasks and gets things done, and pings people who didn’t respond. And I do that. I say, “I don’t have a really strong centered Warrior, but I’ll be Karen.” And if I keep doing that, if I keep practicing it, at some point it’s not me playing Karen, I’m just using my centered Warrior. So I can live into it by practicing someone else’s style.


TS: I wanted to ask you a question, because you responded to this person who you sensed used some of your work without crediting you, and I think that’s a situation many people can relate to something like that. And you wrote, and you explained, “This is what the Dreamer, Thinker, Lover, Warrior in me has to say about that.” And what happened? I mean, did this difficult situation resolve itself well? I could imagine maybe it did, maybe it didn’t.


EAF: It did, actually. And I think the person on process was taken aback, that I sent an email and didn’t call. But honestly, when you’re upset like that, like I was, with feelings as strong as betrayal, I found it much more helpful without being destructive to give myself the time to really articulate each of these four parts of myself and spell it out as clearly as I could. I think sometimes, it’s also better to just get on the phone. So on the process level, I think he would have preferred that I call.

That said, he was really appreciative that I was so clear. I said some tough things, but also balanced them with affectionate things and expressing appreciation of us as colleagues. And I mean, one of the benefits of speaking from each of the Big Four is you do create a sense of balance. You do have those multiple perspectives. And neither one or another is better, or more true, or more important. They’re just equally important, different parts of you speaking.

And he claims it wasn’t intentional, Tami. I’m never going to know the truth. He claims he didn’t realize. Which, as you can tell, one outcome is I’m not entirely sure if I trust him or not anymore. But he did edit the thing and he did attribute some of the ideas to me and to Winning from Within. And I guess that’s what I would say, in the moment, that conflict was resolved. But just in talking to you, I’m realizing the relationship took a hit, and it never really got back to how I felt towards him before this happened.


TS: Yes, yes. Now, you mentioned in talking about yourself a little bit from the Winning from Within paradigm, that you’re low on Warrior energy. And I’d love to know if you were to share with us your Winning from Within kind of natural profile, maybe before you started really heavily working on all seven of these elements. Where did you have natural capacity, and where did you have to develop your capacity?


EAF: Well, I’ll tell you the answer, but I’ll say something first, which is, these are four very big buckets. And that’s because I want them to be useful and easy to jump into. But there are, let’s say, 10, or 30, or 100 different archetypes that live within each of these four buckets. So for example, when I think about the Thinker, that could be a philosopher. It could also be a scientist. It could also be a judge. So within Thinker, just to give an example, I love ideas. I love frameworks and models. [Laughs] I love explanations of things. That part of my thinker is very strong, innate, and comfortable for me. I despise numbers. I despise calculations, and formulas, and math. And when I think about that part of Thinker, that’s very rational and just wants thefacts, that’s not me at all.

So in any of these buckets, there’s going to be what part of that member of the Big Four is comfortable and natural, and well-developed, and what part of that is less developed or less typically used. But that is really more like if you’re trying to actually use it, that you would start to differentiate different members of the Big Four.

I would say probably Dreamer and Thinker, although I think over a long period of my life, I got the feedback that I’m overly emotional and I express myself with too much emotion. So I don’t know if that was actually Lover, or just a triggered—everybody at the same time! [Laughs] I don’t know if I was really sharing emotions or I was just dumping my hijacked reactivity. But yes, I think the part of Dreamer that has vision, that wants to serve society, that wants to shape a culture of how business gets done for the next 50 years, that part of Dreamer; and the part of Thinker that would take a bathtub in a bathtub of books. I think those are my two strongest natural places to stand.


TS: It’s helpful. I love when you bring forward the concrete examples. It makes it all really real for me. And part of the reason I wanted to ask you about your profile in the Winning from Within system is one of the big lights that went on for me in reading up a little bit on your work was you talk about how this idea of developing self-awareness at work is something that now people talk a lot about, but don’t define. And you actually go at it and say that we need two different kinds of self-awareness: we need state awareness and profile awareness. And you just shared some of your profile awareness.

And I just thought this distinction was really helpful—really helpful to understand at any given moment, I’m in a certain state and I need to be aware of—my Lookout is going to look around and see what state I’m in. But I also need to know my profile so I know my proclivities, tendencies. I really loved that distinction. So I just want to thank you for that.


EAF: Yes no, that’s exactly right. The one thing I would want to add about the profile is that it’s a dynamic profile. So it’s not like some of the typing systems that people have in corporations. And DISC is a common one—Myers-Briggs people used to use, I think, more in the past. And people find out, “I’m a D,” or “I’m a C.” And I think that’s very destructive. I think relatively earlier in your career, it’s probably helpful to know, this is where my spikes are, my strengths are. But over time, it’s incredibly limiting to people’s sense of their own development and growth. And it also puts people in a box. So other people think, “Well, I would never ask Erica for that because she’s very low D,” or something like that. [Laughs]

So the profile is sort of your core operating system at the moment—like right now, in this chapter of your life, this year in this role that you’re playing. This is your common set of tendencies right now. And three years from now, or tomorrow, you might be using a different profile, which is the combination within your Four of which are running high, which are low, which are centered. And that it changes all the time, rather than thinking, “Now I know my type. And for the rest of my life, those are my limitations and those are my strengths.”

So that’s all the profile piece. And if I know that at this moment in my life, I’m really running low Warrior, for example, which has been a challenge for me—that I know first of all, how to ask for help. And I know that I should look into practices, really practical things. Getting Things Done [by] David Allen. Just execution, implementation, project planning. These are not things that come easily to me. Although interestingly, another dimension of Warrior, which is taking a stand and standing firmly for what you believe, or your values, or your opinion. That comes very easily to me.

So as I said, once you start digging into these four, there’s different—there’s different aspects. But yes, the state awareness is exactly what you said. I don’t need to repeat it. You said it perfectly. But those are different, and I consider when people say self-awareness, the awareness piece means both of those things. You need both of those things. And the profile is kind of over time, and the state awareness is right now in this moment, what state of mind or state of being am I in, and therefore bringing to my leadership, my communication, my negotiation, my conflicts—all of those things.


TS: Now Erica, to end our conversation, I want to talk a little bit about something you’ve pointed to. You said that when it comes to dreaming about the future of business, that’s something that’s really important to you. And you mentioned that the new Inner MBA program—that for me, I’ve been deep in it. My sleeves are pulled all the way up. [Erica laughs] I’m down to my elbows, whatever you say—trying to create a training program that will help people develop the inner capacities that they can then run businesses and manage in businesses with a different kind of, I would say, platform of awareness, with self-awareness, both in the moment and of their profiles. With all kinds of capacities online, the heart capacity fully online. But I wanted to hear from you: what do you think the kind of training is that people need now? Why are you excited about the Inner MBA and participating in it?


EAF: I’m excited by it for a lot of reasons. One is the core insight of it. That is your inner life, inner state, inner profile, your inner maturity, your inner wisdom, your inner skills that are directly going to shape your behavior, your results, how you impact people, how you work with people. And that the world around you that you create is going to shape, influence, teach, and refine your inner experience. That those are in a loop. They’re in a constant, reinforcing loop. And that people have more choice than they think about their inexperience. A lot of people think, “I can’t change my thoughts. Those are my thoughts. I can’t change my feelings. That’s how I feel.” Well, we know that’s not true, actually.

So the insight that people can become more effective in their performance by getting to know themselves better on the inside and learning skills to be more choiceful about their inner life, because that will give them better results, better management, more effective leadership, more helpful to more people, more capacity to impact society—that core insight is not in most MBA programs. [Laughs] I feel confident in saying that. And honestly, the absolutely extraordinary faculty that you have put together in this program—the set of luminaries, spiritual teachers, and the faculty that will present different business competences, and bringing them together. 

I mentioned at the beginning of this, the Harvard Negotiation Insight Initiative, that I created and ran starting in 2002. Honestly, I don’t know of another program since that, that reminds me of what I was birthing or creating, or the vision I had of what was actually needed for professionals and leaders. I have not seen anything since then until the Inner MBA that is really reaching across the practical and the spiritual, and what is applied and what is conceptual, and how did the big ideas of these luminary teachers combine to enable actual practitioners at work to do what they do more effectively. It’s an astonishing set of topics and an astonishing set of faculty that you’ve brought together. And of course, I am completely convinced and have devoted the last 20 years to the idea of what you’re saying: going through the inside will make you more effective on the outside. And I’m very, very touched and inspired to be part of it.


TS: Yes. I’m so happy! Erica Ariel Fox who we’ve been talking to, is part of our Inner MBA faculty. She’s joining us for this nine-month certificate program that Sounds True has created in partnership with LinkedIn, Wisdom 2.0, and a division of NYU called MindfulNYU. When you complete the nine-month program, you get a certificate of completion from MindfulNYU. Erica will be teaching on “Conscious Negotiation: Winning from Within.” It’s a special Inner MBA accelerator workshop that’s part of the curriculum. And you can learn more about the program at

And Erica, just talking with you, I just feel like I’ve met such a kindred spirit. I’ll let you know I’m going to send you a little photo of my egg, and then—


EAF: Oh, I can’t wait!


TS: Let you know how it’s going. Yep, I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it. I’m going to put it into practice.


EAF: Can I say one more word?


TS: Of course.


EAF: If I had a senior executive asking me, “Where should I go to really take myself to the next level as a leader and as a human being?” And they’re asking me about Harvard Business School, or INSEAD, or Stanford, or all these programs—all these schools have programs—IMD in Europe. I would say take the Inner MBA of Sounds True. I’m being totally honest with you. I know what all of these programs are doing for executive education. I know what all of them are doing in leadership development. And I know what this program is. And I tell you my absolute truth. I would advise, and I will advise. I would advise a senior executive who wanted to really turbocharge their capability and capacity to lead—of all of the choices, I would send them to the Inner MBA.


TS: Hey hey! I’ve been speaking with Erica Ariel Fox. She’s the author of the New York Times bestseller Winning from Within: A Breakthrough Method for Leading, Living, and Lasting Change. She writes a column for Forbes on the inner life of leaders, teaches the negotiation course at Harvard Law School, and yes, she’s on the faculty of the Inner MBA. And you can learn more at Sounds True: waking up the world.

Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at And if you’re interested, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. And also if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe we can create a kinder and wiser world. waking up the world.


Copy link
Powered by Social Snap