NEURO-SEMANTIC LEADERSHIP: Its Origin and Development

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

While I didn’t know it at the time, my discovery of the Meta-States Model in September of 1994 launched what I would begin calling Neuro-Semantics the next year. It was in 1995 that my years of study in Science and Sanity, my presentation of the Meta-Model at the General Semantic Conference in New York led to several General Semantics / NLP workshops that year which then initiated my use of the term Neuro-Semantics. That’s where it came from.

Then, the next year, with “the ninety-million dollar law suit of Richard Bandler against the field of NLP,” and Richard’s demand that I sign a new Trainer Contract which required that I would be signing off anything I developed so that he would claim it as his intellectual property convinced me to make the decision to trademark Meta-States, Neuro-Semantics, and Meta-NLP. That was also the year that I began collaborating with Bob Bodenhamer for writing some books together, and so we decided to join forces in getting the trademarks and along with Robert Olic, we created the first Society of Neuro-Semantics. That was 1996 / 1997.

It was at that time that I also decided to close my psychotherapy practice and NLP Trainer Center in Colorado and to begin traveling internationally to lead out in creating and promoting Neuro-Semantics as a field and model. A few more years, and there were lots of people wanting to become Neuro-Semantic Trainers so I designed that program and began the certification under the auspices of the International Society of Neuro-Semantics. I did so having been recognized as an NLP trainer and co-developer by eight different international NLP organizations.

By 2001 I had become fully aware of the need to focus on the subject of leadership. I felt the need to work on leadership for myself and for those who were already naturally leaders in Neuro-Semantics. It was then that I recognized the need to develop a Neuro-Semantic Leadership Team. So I created the Dreamers team of ten key Neuro-Semantic people, some were trainers but half were not. I continued that last for almost two years, using it as council of bright minds to help me make decisions for the movement and community. Yet as time proceeded I became increasingly aware that there was something basically missing with that group. We were doing far too much talking and discussing without doing.

AS I became aware of this contradiction, I realized that what was missing was that we had no criteria for leadership. No standards. That I had invited people to be a part of a leadership team who were not leaders, not leading out anywhere, but armchair critics. So, thinking that through with several people, I realized that the people helping with the decisions and directions needed to be the same people who were doing—who were actually investing their time, energy, money, reputations, etc. in training and promoting Neuro-Semantics. So that led to two new developments. If they were actually doing, then at least they were stepping out and leading.

First, in 2003 I created a list of criteria for Neuro-Semantic Leadership and then later than year I invited a dozen key trainers who were training and certifying people to join me and co-train the Trainers’ Training with me on the Gold Coast in Australia. So in the next year (2004), eight of them began the journey to become Master Trainers and when they would reach that level, I would appoint them to be the Neuro-Semantic Guardians of the Vision. I set out the basic structure and pathway and together we forged the relationships that enabled us all to begin to co-create the process.

That process was well underway, when the following year (2005), a major problem arose with one trainer. Because it involved myself, I stepped aside from the “Conflict Resolution” process that we had in place for disciplining that trainer, and the co-trainers took charge to handle that. Then in September of 2005 at the Neuro-Semantic Trainers’ Training in Johannesburg, South Africa, we decided to change the process I had started, sped it up, and so we initiated the official Neuro-Semantic Guardians in spite of the fact that only one person (Colin Cox) has fulfilled all of the criteria for being recognized as a Master Trainer.

So in November of 2005 I sent out what follows to explain the “Guardians” group and the reason for that name. Numerous Trainers had asked about the term, several who did not like it asked for some explanation as to why we chose that name. Among the questions they were asking were the following:

Why “protect” Neuro-semantics with a group to be called Guardians?

Is the idea of “Guardian” echoing the scarcity that’s dominated NLP history?
Will the “purity frame” prevent further development?
If Neuro-semantics comes from abundance why not name the group function e.g. Neuro-semantic Leaders or Neuro-semantic Developers or Neuro-semantic Promoters, etc.?

The Neuro-Semantic Leadership Team — “The Guardians”

Thanks for these great questions. Yet do take a deep breath and know that the development of the leadership team does not come from scarcity or the fear of repeating the history of NLP. Actually, it comes from the very opposite. It comes from a desire to create a positive legacy for Neuro-Semantics for preserving our vision and values as we grow and expand.

Precisely because there was no guidance or guardianship of the original model of NLP that some were able to take the powerful technology and misused it. And they mis-used it in such a way that the name “NLP” today in so many places has a negative reputation for “manipulation.” Not only that, but today there is no regulatory board or agency that unifies the field of NLP. And that means that there are no standards or agreement about what constitutes NLP or competency. It means that there’s no one who can receive reports of misconduct or unethical behavior.

Writing that reminds me of what Robert Dilts once said. He noted this: “NLP was created by two madmen who modeled three wild individualists.” I don’t know the context of that quote. I’ll have to ask Robert. But he also said, that while Bandler and Grinder planted the seed gave birth to NLP they never stayed around to “father” it, to nurture the movement. Instead, they fought with each other and many others! So as parent, so the child.

By way of contrast, I want the richness and abundance of the Meta-States model which has led to the Neuro-Semantic community to be guided as it matures. I want to stay around and nurture it and to create an entire team of co-leaders to help me nurture and equip that community. Obviously neither I nor anyone else can stop someone from learning the models (from books tapes, trainings, etc.) and then mis-using them. While that will happen, that’s not the point of creating a leadership team.

The point is that we are creating something more than just some ideological tools, we are creating community—a community of men and women living the meanings of Neuro-Semantics, especially its vision and values. And it is that community that we want to guide, protect, and guard. The point is about how we manage ourselves as a society, as an association of people who share this vision and who believe in accountability, responsibility, and walking our talk.

As far as the abundance of giving things away, there are now some 3,000 pages of articles and patterns on the website. No one has ever suggested that I operate from scarcity. I continue to make available to all Neuro-Semantic Trainers the use of the 30 different Training Manuals that I have created and will continue to create for a mere $5 royalty fee for use.

So in 2005, I began Trainers’ Training by defining Neuro-Semantics in this way:

“Neuro-Semantic began as an Idea that gave birth to a Model that brought a Vision into existence which in turn birthed a Community from which many of us engage in Business.”

That means that the branding that I and the leadership team have been creating is more than just a model or an idea. It is also a community. We are not just selling an idea, we are selling the relationships that we have created. That’s why “one bad apple in the barrel can ruin many.” In publicity and branding, one rotten representation can spoil it for many. That’s also why at the Graduations from day one I have always asked graduates to go out and to “Make me Proud.” Since 2004, I changed that to “Make us proud!” because we are all in this together.

While I am not sure who came up with the word “Guardian,” it came from the idea of guarding. If we could turn “guide” into “Guidian” that would be a better term. In any field, if there is not a system of accountability, if a community will not police itself and hold a standard of ethics, someone else will eventually have to come in to do that. As far as the other names, I have designated those people who creatively develop new patterns, models, products, and services in Neuro-Semantics, the “Neuro-Semantic Developers.” As far as “leaders” go, while the Guardians are leaders in their own right, their primary function is that of guiding and guarding the vision and values that define Neuro-Semantics.

In business, we recognize the importance of getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off (Jim Collins, Good to Great). The small business owner who does not do this, or the international corporation who does not do this, is asking for trouble. Today the idea of buy-in, responsibility, ownership, and accountability is simply a part of how professional people and communities conduct themselves. They do that to translate their highest visions and values into reality, which is similarly the guiding principle in formulating the Guardians group.

We are doing the same in the field of Coaching. Michelle Duval and I have also put together a group of Meta-Coach Guardians to uphold the practice of Meta-Coaching to professional and ethical standards.

The Leadership Group of Neuro-Semantics, birthed Sept. 15, 2005, is now named “the Neuro-Semantic Guardians.” What is the purpose of this group? It is simply to guard the vision, the mission, and the values that we all share and believe in. This vision is simple and yet profound —it is to perform the highest of meanings so that we can congruently be professional men and women operating from abundance and collaboration.

The latest step forward in NS Leadership

In the past two or three years I have become especially aware of the need for intentionally and strategically working on the development of leaders in Neuro-Semantics. With each Neuro-Semantic Training of Trainers, and the fascinating conversations we have about our vision and mission, about positioning ourselves, branding Neuro-Semantics, cultural modeling, and much more, I have been awakened more fully to the need to devote my energies to developing a team of leaders—a community of leaders who can and will pioneer the pathways to excellence into the future.

This is something that has never happened in the field of NLP. Today the field of NLP is paying the price for that as the lack of coherence, unity, and even basic cooperation is at an all-time low. There are fewer magazines today than ever before, there are fewer national associations, there are fewer conferences.

So I’ve return to researching and studying, to interviewing and observing, this time in the area of cutting-edge leadership, management, creativity, cultural change, etc. Part of my vision and mission right now is to put Neuro-Semantics on the international map. To that end I have spent countless hours in strategic thinking and brainstorming with scores of people from around the world. And slowly, ever so slowly, some tremendous ideas have been emerging, ideas to which I’m committed to turn them into reality.

One idea came from Jim Collins. He said that succeeding with a company to take it from being just a good company to a great one, we must first get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off. In his book Good to Great, this was one of the key secrets of the companies who truly became great in terms of long lasting change that transformed the very business. This, together with community, collaboration, benchmarking professional standards, and co-creating a group vision has been taking form in the two Guardian groups that we have formed.

I began picking out the Neuro-Semantic trainers around the world that I knew who are out there running successful trainings, creating training centers, and leading out by making things happen. They are not just talking about great ideas, they are translating those great ideas into practice—the heart of Meta-States, “apply to self,” and closing the knowing-doing gap. I’ve also picked out those who have been contributing to the community, who have been creating the community, who have been collaborating, and giving of themselves and those who have developed effective presentational styles.

Then to test them, to see what they’re made of, I have invited them to become part of a year to three-year program for moving to the place of becoming master trainers. When they reach that level, they will fully be those who are ready and able to guard the vision because they fully embody it.

In Meta-Coaching, Michelle Duval and I established the International Meta-Coach Foundation after conducting our first seven trainings and then invited Neuro-Semantic Trainers who are also in the Coaching business to step forward for a similar process. The process will enable them to become a part of the Meta-Coach Guardians and will operate as a board of examiners for maintaining the quality of the training and the standards of the competencies involves in Meta-Coaching. Our Sept. 2004 training in Sydney began with the first three who we later licensed to train Meta-Coaching, others joined us after that in the Meta-Coach trainings so that there are now five people licensed as Meta-Coach Trainers.

All of this is about leading—it is about the leading-following relational system. In fact, following, as a high level skill, is a critical part of leadership. Leaders learn to lead by following and often lead by following, by learning to be a part of a team. That’s what we have begun to create in Neuro-Semantics.

And Now, the Adventure

This brief history of leadership in Neuro-Semantics has identified where it started and where it has come to, in the coming years, we will be able to continue this story as new men and women arise in this community to contribute their leadership. Here’s to that ongoing journey!