‘Open.’ ‘Personal.’ ‘Inappropriate’: Inside the Truist Leadership Institute


The Truist Leadership Institute in Greensboro, N.C., is the bank’s signature management advancement center, where hopeful executives can dive deep into their individual experiences and, preferably, come out as more self-aware and reliable leaders. But critics state a few of the institute’s practices blur the lines in between the individual and expert.


It drifts in the forest as a treehouse amongst the plant — a chapel of wood, glass and steel.

A pedestrian bridge curves like a metal spinal column around this landscape, linking structures that almost mix in with the trees. Nature is the apparent style here, a location to pull back from the surrounding world of aging rural shopping center and stretching megachurch car park and to peer into one’s inner self. 

This is the school of the growing Truist Leadership Institute in Greensboro, North Carolina. Behind the cultured, retreatlike setting, potential executives at one of the biggest banks in the nation undergo what the psychologist who initially established the institute’s shows called a “dramatic and often threatening plunge into the vortex of the mind.” 

Truist Financial takes pride in its management institute, while critics — none of whom participated in the Truist Leadership Institute’s programs — concern whether it wrongly blurs borders in between work and staff members’ minds and individual lives. Underpinning that dispute is the Truist Leadership Institute’s tight connection to the late psychologist Dr. James Farr, who in his Greensboro, N.C., practice, promoted the concept that unsettled problems from youth might stunt the individual and expert lives of leaders.

John Allison worked as CEO of BB&T from 1989 to 2008, throughout which time the bank obtained Farr Associates, a management and management consultancy established by Farr, in 1994. BB&T had a service relationship with Farr Associates considering that the 1980s, and Allison’s experience in the program turned him into a follower.   

“One of the key components of the program was voluntary self-hypnosis,” Allison stated. “Any significant event in our life is held in the subconscious. Bringing these events to consciousness can often dissipate the energy because we realize we drew an irrational conclusion as a child.” 

Truist states it no longer utilizes voluntary self-hypnosis. The bank did not state when Farr’s program, or when the BB&T development of that program, stopped doing so. 

Will Sutton, the institute’s president and director, stated that hypnosis “of any type” is not a part of the institute’s curriculum. 

“My experience with the program goes back over 20 years, when I experienced it as a participant, and no such thing was part of it then,” he stated.   

The BB&T Leadership Institute — the outgrowth of the acquisition of Farr Associates — ended up being the Truist Leadership Institute after BB&T combined with SunTrust Banks in 2019 and the combined bank was called Truist. The flagship program used by the institute is called “Mastering Leadership Dynamics,” and it is based upon shows that stemmed with Farr. 

Executives state the Truist Leadership Institute teaches self-awareness: People are driven by the subconscious beliefs they established as kids, usually in how they associate with their moms and dads. Identifying those beliefs is essential to conquering their unfavorable results, or a minimum of in working around them, according to the institute.

This might indicate that participants of the program discover themselves mentally susceptible, going over the methods their youth experiences continue to contribute in their imperfections at work and in your home. 

“For example, my mother was hypercritical,” Allison stated in an e-mail. “If I got all A’s and one B on my report card she would focus exclusively on the B. I concluded that the only way I could be ‘good enough’ was to make all A’s, which is not achievable in the real world. So I would be unhappy and could take the negative energy out on [my] fellow employees, which was completely irrational.” 

It’s not uncommon for banks to use management training to staff members, particularly to those considered as high-potential supervisors. And Truist has actually constantly backed up its management institute and its method. In truth, the Charlotte-based bank is purchasing the institute, broadening the size of its school by including 86,093 square feet in brand-new building to the tune of $51.53 million, according to an authorization submitted with the city of Greensboro. 

Others have actually raised substantial interest in the method the institute might cross the line in between the expert and the individual. Several management professionals revealed issue that the power characteristics intrinsic in the Truist Leadership Institute and its programs are bothering.

Managers’ involvement at the Truist Leadership Institute is voluntary however urged, Sutton stated. 

Some outdoors professionals questioned whether the bank’s employees must be anticipated to dive into these deeply individual problems in groups that might include their existing or future associates. 

After all, if somebody wishing to move into the executive level at the $555 billion-asset Truist gets an invite to go to bank-sponsored management training, are they truly going to turn it down, or not appear to totally welcome it? Especially if it’s an experience typical to senior executives at Truist.

“This is wildly inappropriate,” stated Alison Green, a management specialist and author of the site Ask a Manager

Even with no “voluntary self-hypnosis” element of the program, Green stated that she would “continue to have the same concerns about that kind of deeply intimate emotional work being inappropriate for a work context.” 

“For many kinds of trauma, this kind of work should only be done under the supervision of a trained therapist,” she stated. “The CEO’s examples are about his grades, but what about people whose childhood trauma is about far more serious issues, like abuse? The workplace is not an appropriate forum to deal with those issues or the emotional aftermath of dealing with them, or, for that matter, the secondary trauma it might bring up in listeners.” 

‘This accomplishment does not come painlessly’

Lakecia Stewart made sure she was the youngest individual in the space. She keeps in mind sensation like her employers at the bank thought she was among those high-potential leaders they wished to establish. 

“I felt a little intimidated because I was so young at that point around very senior people who were much older,” she stated. “It felt like, how do I say this, or should I, because of how young I was.” 

At the management training, she discovered herself in a group of more skilled leaders, both from within the bank she wished to advance in, and from other business.

“You would have to write things about your childhood, the traumatic things that may have happened,” Stewart stated. “One time we actually had to close our eyes and try to almost meditate on different things that had happened. The instructor said something and you had to think about it, go way back into your childhood and be one with the experience. It was a really deep class, I’ll say that.” 

She returned to work and informed her employer what she believed — that it was the very best thing she ever did. Stewart last worked for the bank in 2012 as a senior vice president of brand name and interactions method. 

“I didn’t even really know who I was, and they did a very deep dive into that, and why you behaved the way you did,” she stated. “It was very personal, you weren’t forced, but you wanted to do it because you were trying to figure out what made you tick. That was the whole idea.” 

While Truist bewares to state that the Truist Leadership Institute is a management advancement program, not a mental institute, the bank does claim that its method is “grounded in the application of neuropsychology.” 

The foundations of the institute’s programs, especially Mastering Leadership Dynamics, originated from Farr. The Truist Leadership Institute site openly calls its existing shows a “natural evolution of Farr’s world-class approach to leadership development.” 

Truist Leadership Institute 2
The lobby of the Truist Leadership Institute in Greensboro, N.C.


Sutton stated that the modern-day Truist Leadership Institute has “similar ultimate goals” to those of the programs run by Farr, however that its method has actually progressed. Both Farr’s initial program and the existing version goal to  “help leaders understand themselves at a deeper level and to know the impact we have on our own success as well as those around us,” Sutton stated.  

“It is much more open and collaborative and our executive consultants work hard to create an environment that allows participants to discover their beliefs about themselves,” he stated. “This includes those elements of our leadership that make us successful along with those facets of our personality — particularly when we’re under stress or conflict — that leak out and are destructive to relationships and our leadership goals. We spend much more time on leadership purpose and what teammates see and experience when we’re on purpose versus off purpose.” 

The Truist Leadership Institute follows the ethical standards of the International Coaching Federation, Sutton stated, and its deal with executives is “guided by very strict rules of confidentiality.” 

“Whether it is executive coaching, team development, or our programs, nothing is ever discussed outside of the classroom and we set those norms upfront with every group with whom we work,” he stated.  “All participant feedback and assessments are their own and we do not share them — even if asked by a participant’s manager so that they may ‘better coach them.'” 

Any keeps in mind the Truist Leadership Institute’s staff members take throughout the program are either provided straight to the individual or instantly and firmly ruined, Sutton stated. And the program’s participants can divulge as little or as much as they wish to as part of the procedure, he included. 

“In fact, we set the stage for that early in the class by using a metaphor of a boat — when it comes to reflection and disclosure, you can dip your toe in the water, put a foot in the boat, sit in the boat tied to the dock or push out to sea — your choice,” Sutton stated. 

Former BB&T and Truist CEO Kelly King, who broadened and consistently promoted the institute, has actually openly credited Farr’s deal with assisting him handle the anger from his impoverished childhood with an alcoholic dad on a tobacco farm in rural North Carolina. The school of the Truist Leadership Institute bears King’s name; he stepped down as the bank’s head in 2021.

“Of course the whole leadership institute process included a self-awareness process and that whole — it went to multiple other events with the institute, but the first 5 days was the giant, leaping pad for me because it started self-awareness,” King stated in a comprehensive three-part interview with the Truist Leadership Institute’s podcast released in the summer season of 2021. “I was completely unaware of anything. I was just surviving, and that’s the problem in life. Most people go through much of their lives if not all of their lives and are never self-aware.” 

In James Farr’s 1998 book “Supra-Conscious Leadership: New Thinking for a New World,” Farr explains running workshops like the ones King and Allison participated in for executives at his company in Greensboro. Farr passed away in 2000. 

“Nine out of 10 of those leaders arrived believing, if they thought about it at all, that leadership was something that could be learned like mathematics or computer science,” Farr composes in the book. “They did not understand that becoming a genuine leader would require a dramatic and often threatening plunge into the vortex of the mind — their own minds in particular and the human mind in general. But it does require such an experience. It is heartening to note that all but the most stubbornly resistant participants in our workshops finally came to see and accept this.” 

“This achievement does not come painlessly and is no small accomplishment,” he composes later on in the book. “It usually takes a long time to practice and exercise our reflective and imaginative faculties to reach supraconsciousness.” 

The management market

The Truist Leadership Institute may be uncommon for a bank to own, however it makes best sense in the context of a growing — and progressively questionable — business management market. 

Leadership books, workshops and retreat programs compete they hold the secrets to success, both personally and expertly, stated John Van Maanan, an emeritus teacher of company research studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. The amorphous nature of the market makes it tough to measure, however some price quotes vary around $360 billion, and it appears to be growing quick.

“There’s influence and money to be had,” Van Maanan stated. 

The unmentioned deal in numerous management programs goes something like this: Accept the underlying concepts and morality of whatever management theory is being taught (such as servant management or task-oriented management), and be rewarded with the cash and power that originates from promos at work and development in your own life. 

“Some people may find satisfaction and ecstasy in theories like that, but ultimately it’s telling people what to do,” he stated. “If you believe in it, they tell you the rules to follow and that you will become a success. I think it’s helpful for some people but some people may find it draconian and really offensive.” 

And in these cases, there’s very little space for cynics. 

“You either get with the program or you get out,” Van Maanan stated. “Some people will manifest outward and suggest that they accept it, but inwardly feel very conflicted because you have to go along with it to please the boss.” 

The Truist Leadership Institute is not run as an earnings center for the bank. It accepts cash from outdoors customers — usually executives at other business — however runs totally free programs for trainees and has a big effort for school principals. 

Most management programs, like the Truist Leadership Institute, teach a higher-minded perfect than easy methods for handling staff members. At Truist, the expression “purpose-driven leadership” is popular: The concept that you have a function for your work aside from simply earning money for the bank — for instance, broadening monetary gain access to for underserved neighborhoods, or increasing financial chances for ladies — underpins much of what the bank embraces.

“It helps to rationalize a path that we otherwise might scrutinize a lot more carefully,” stated Stacie Bosley, a financial expert at Hamline University who studies supervisory economics. “It puts it in a glossy package that says this is really about your self-actualization; it’s really about showing all these intrinsic qualities you have about yourself.” 

Leadership structures make it appear as though the by-product — not the main objective — of this pursuit is liberty, wealth and impact, Bosley stated. 

“People need to feel like going for those things means something else,” she stated. 

But that reward structure is deceptive, she stated, particularly in a business setting where there are a minimal variety of management positions. Though numerous might go to the workshops, just a couple of will in fact climb up the business ladder. 

“There’s structural reasons why most people aren’t going to rise into what they denote as leadership positions, or positions of wealth,” Bosley stated. “That’s exactly the reason why leadership trainings say that this higher-purpose is an even bigger prize, because not everyone can achieve the tangible rewards.” 

Chase Thiel, a teacher of management and professional in ethical management at the University of Wyoming, stated the scholastic literature is at finest undetermined on whether these management programs fulfill their mentioned objectives.

“The secret that everyone knows about in the industry is that companies will spend billions of dollars on training, but relatively few spend any on training evaluation,” he stated. “The best thing you’ll typically find is an exit survey, but nothing substantive in that you’re actually looking at changes in behavior, like the relationship that these people have with their subordinates. That’s not being measured.” 

The landscape of management advancement programs is diverse, comprised of little business, management masters with high public profiles and bigger business that have some type of training arm, he stated. There’s little standardization as far as what they teach or how they’re determined. 

“It’s pretty unregulated,” Thiel stated. 

Van Maanan stated that for numerous management programs, anecdotal outcomes suffice. “Getting results” isn’t truly the point, either. 

“They believe deeply in it, and maybe for them it works,” he stated. “But working is not the same thing as demonstrating the factuality of it. That takes it out of the scientific realm and puts it into the inspirational realm.” 

Red light, thumbs-up

Everyone in the class had an option: traffic signal, or thumbs-up. 

Robert Halfacre is now the mayor of the city of Clemson, South Carolina, and a business lender at Park National Bank. But from March 2010 to June 2014, he worked for BB&T. And he as soon as beinged in a space with a group of his peers as a trainer asked individuals to choose if their associates “exhibited the characteristics of a leader.” (King, in the Truist Leadership Institute podcast, discussed his experience throughout this very same workout, and stated that he thinks the institute still uses it.) 

“Then all around the room people would press green for yes, and red if they felt like maybe they didn’t exhibit those behaviors,” Halfacre stated. “That’s nerve-wracking — to get someone’s response at a very limited interaction, really a first impression.”  

Truist Leadership Institute Will Sutton
Will Sutton, President and Director of the Truist Leadership Institute. Sutton stated the institute “is much more open and collaborative, and our executive consultants work hard to create an environment that allows participants to discover their beliefs about themselves.”


Sutton stated that the Truist Leadership Institute does utilize a “First Perceptions Exercise,” often described as traffic signal, thumbs-up. 

“It’s utilized early in the program and is meant to give participants exactly that — the first impressions they give people,” he stated. ” It’s designed to illuminate two things — the cognitive biases we all have when evaluating others and to help participants understand how they process information about themselves.” 

Halfacre participated in the program as a BB&T staff member, however his success in his house neighborhood is emblematic of among Truist’s greatest objectives with its management institute: reaching outside the business, and affecting neighborhoods more holistically. 

“I’m still using it today,” Halfacre stated. “Not only just in banking, but on the political side — and, like I said, on the personal side.” 

The Truist Leadership Institute hosts a variety of programs for individuals who do not work for the bank. 

These programs are where Truist is most singing about the management institute. Truist’s existing CEO Bill Rogers discussed the institute’s deal with K-12 principals in a current PBS interview, and BB&T promoted that program as neighborhood advancement work throughout neighborhood effect hearings for its proposed merger with SunTrust — a significantly fundamental part of bank regulators’ choice to authorize merger and acquisition activity. (The Truist Leadership Institute likewise appears in the bank’s current proxy declaration and yearly revenues report.) 

The institute takes outdoors executive customers who can take part in friend training and individually executive training. It likewise has programs that enter into institution of higher learnings, and one that welcomes K-12 principals and instructors to the institute to go through a variation of its Managing Leadership Dynamics program. 

The institute even has a mobile video game, “LEGACY by Truist,” tailored towards teens and young people to teach them the type of management lessons promoted at the institute. 

The ideological foundation of these efforts is discovered, as soon as again, in Farr’s work. To see what he states are the advantages of this mentally affected management training, the leaders he and his company have actually trained requirement to head out into the world and bring other individuals into a comparable frame of mind. 

“One of the primary tasks that leaders must recognize and begin to address is leading the population, their followers, to reprogram their minds as required: Leadership in a rapidly changing world must, of necessity, take the form of reeducation,” Farr composes in his book. 

Kevin Oritz, till he left the Truist Leadership Institute, dealt with the management advancement company’s efforts in universities. Oritz went on to an MBA program at the University of North Carolina.

He stated that programs with schools broadened considerably in the time he existed. 

“We recognize to improve our organizations and our communities we need to improve our leadership,” he stated. “The Truist Leadership Institute focuses on this concept of conscious leadership, of being self-aware that our thoughts, actions and behaviors have some kind of results.” 

Students and universities do not spend for this training, Oritiz stated. There’s likewise no charge to play the mobile video game. 

“We recognized the importance of getting this message to students at an early stage,” he stated. “There’s not so much of a contract as a handshake. We say we’ll come in and facilitate the program, we’ll do that at no cost to you and no cost to the students, and we’ll introduce you to these concepts that executives pay for.” 

Banking on management

Halfacre, who stated he enjoyed his experience at the management training, likewise stated he understood about half of his accomplices by name entering into the experience. 

“Obviously, throughout the program, we all got to know each other very well,” he stated. 

His story echoes the experiences of other individuals who come out of the program, particularly internal participants from either BB&T or Truist: Would-be executives collect at the institute, and typically share deeply individual stories. 

“You got comfortable over time with your peers sharing some of your innermost feelings,” he stated. “I can remember that very vividly. They provided the right environment for people to share certain things that you would normally not want to share, certainly not in a banking environment, per se.” 

While Stewart and Halfacre felt as though their time at the Truist Leadership Institute was an important experience, some professionals alert that not everybody is going to feel that method, and the power characteristics at play make it tough for participants to speak up. The sharpest of those critics alert that it crosses a considerable border that needs to not be breached.

“Many people simply feel violated by demands that share deeply personal emotions with co-workers or managers,” Green stated. “No licensed therapist would say this activity is safe or appropriate, given both the lack of professional supervision and the power dynamics that exist in the space where it’s happening.” 

But both the institute’s promoters and critics concur: The institute is distinct, especially for a bank to have. The degree to which that’s useful in a setting so carefully connected to participants’ office is up for dispute. 

“It’s all related,” Halfacre stated. “Your personal life and your professional life are all intertwined.”


A news media journalist always on the go, I've been published in major publications including VICE, The Atlantic, and TIME.

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