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From Loss of Identity to Leader

Paul Wieand’s Story

by Al Siebert, PhD

Author of The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back From Setbacks (2006 Independent Publisher’s Best Self-Help book), and best seller The Survivor Personality: Why Some People Are Stronger, Smarter, and More Skillful at Handling Life’s Difficulties…and How You Can Be, Too.


Paul Wieand was a very bright, highly motivated, exceptionally successful young banker. At age 31, he became president of Independence Bancorp — a bank with over with over 1000 employees and $2 billion in deposits. Not content to remain president, Paul actively worked to rise higher. By the time he was 37 he was certain that at the next board meeting he would be elected to replace the retiring Chief Executive Officer. He had lobbied and cultivated the bank’s board members and alerted them to flaws in his main competitor for the CEO position.

To celebrate his expected promotion, Paul took his wife to Paris for two weeks. He enjoyed his first-class vacation and being treated like important executive.

His first morning back at the bank, Paul was surprised to find the out-going CEO and the bank’s attorney waiting for him in his office. They handed him a letter of resignation, saying that if he signed it they would arrange a generous "golden parachute" separation package for him.

Paul was shocked. What had happened? They said his competitor for the CEO position was well liked and well respected by most of the board members. Paul’s efforts to eliminate his competition had backfired. The board decided they didn’t want a CEO who used Paul’s tactics, even though they respected his bank managing skills.

Paul was experienced at making important decisions quickly. He saw the advantages for not fighting and for doing as they wished. He signed the letter and left the building.

Paul felt emotionally shattered. In the weeks that followed he drifted into a deep depression. He lost fifteen pounds. He felt he lost everything even though, by most standards, he was wealthy. "Without my position at the bank," he says, "I didn’t know who I was. I lost my identity."

As weeks and months passed, Paul asked himself, "Who am I?" and, "Why am I here?" He began to see that his identity, who he was, had come from acting out a role in a corporation. Without his job title and status, he felt like nothing.

He realized he had to discover his inner identity. His solution was to create a new professional life for himself by going to graduate school. He enrolled in a doctoral program in psychology and began working to earn a Ph.D.

Paul’s doctoral program included working in a state hospital with psychiatric patients. At the hospital he became very interested in patients with IQ’s over 150 who were diagnosed as schizophrenic. He started a therapy group with them. While working with this group Wieand found that revealing his private secrets and answering their questions with total honesty led them to reveal their secrets and feelings to him and to each other. His honesty created an atmosphere of trust and authenticity that led to impressive progress with the patients in the group.

Paul began to wonder: "If an atmosphere of trust and authenticity works with people isolated from others by their schizophrenia, shouldn’t it also work with corporate leaders who are isolated from others by their roles?" He decided to find out.

In 1995, Paul Wieand opened the Center for Advanced Emotional Intelligence at his estate in Pennsylvania, and began offering a unique program for executives. He and his partner Jan Birchfield have helped dozens of executives learn how to be authentic in their communications, reveal feelings honestly, understand how their strengths can be weaknesses, develop strong inner identities, and become clear in their values. Graduates of his program report breakthroughs they had never imagined possible.

Paul tells me that during his doctoral research he found my writings very insightful about paradoxical personality qualities being fundamental to the inner identity of life’s best survivors. He is currently writing a book on "The Power of Authentic Leadership."

More information about Paul’s transformational journey can be found in the June, 1999, issue of Fast Company magazine. The article, "A Leader’s Journey," by Pamela Kruger is available on-line at http://www.fastcompany.com/37319/leaders-journey.

Information about the Center for Advanced Emotional Intelligence can be found on-line at http://www.advancedeq.com/.