"Don't drink the Kool-Aid!"
I had been nominated to attend Rapport Leadership International, and amidst arranging puppy sitting services for my beagle/lab mix and being on the fence about whether it was okay to "dress comfortably" during a professional development excursion, I was now having to assure those close to me that I wasn't running off to join a cult.
Have you had a similar experience?
Maybe you've been nominated to attend this Leadership Training. When this happened, I noticed there was a lot of buzz about whether Rapport Leadership is a cult or brainwashes members.
I might've been more worried if not for two reasons:
- The man who nominated me seems like a stand-up guy. I've known him for a few years now. He runs a successful business. His family doesn't look like something out of a Stepford remake. And his employees don't have that hollow look in their eyes that suggest that the morning meeting is followed by the morning beating.
- With a background in Forensic Psychology and writing mystery novels (one of which I researched cult psychology to complete), I was determined to learn whether Rapport Leadership was a cult or not.
Chances are, you've been nominated by a respected boss, friend, or family member who has been through the program and seen the life-changing value. But it's still difficult to drown out the naysayers.
If you've got any concern that you're about to be handed a cyanide-spiked beverage and a one-way ticket to "the next plane," read on to learn what a cult really is and how it compares to your upcoming Rapport experience.
What Are the Characteristics of a Cult?
Steve Eichel, psychologist, recognized international cult expert, and president of the International Cultic Studies Association has identified several characteristics of a cult. They include:
- Deceptive means used to recruit new members who are then subjected to brainwashing.
- A leader proclaiming themselves to have special powers and divinity and requiring allegiance to them and to the group.
- An inner circle that follows the leader without question and maintains a tremendous amount of secrecy.
- Exploitation of members financially, psychologically, emotionally, and often sexually.
- Threats regarding a decision to leave the organization or refusal to allow members to do so.
- Pressuring members to make quick (big) decisions.
So Is Rapport Leadership a Cult?
Now that you understand the basics of a cult, let's take a look point by point and see how Rapport measures up.
1. Deceptive means and brainwashing
I (and I suspect most others who were nominated) was promised: "You'll learn how to be a better leader, you'll identify what's been getting in your way, and you'll eat amazing food." Check, check, and oh yes check! No deception there.
If by "brainwashing" they mean being convinced that you are more capable than you ever believed and learning how to respect your employees, coworkers, family, and friends... then yes.
2. A leader with special powers who requires allegiance to the group
First, I don't know who runs Rapport. He or she was not at the retreat center. I can tell you who my facilitator was. But besides a rather impressive ability to project his voice, he didn't claim to be any different than the rest of us.
Second, let's take a closer look at this allegiance to the group aspect. Yes, while we were there, we were part of a team. If one person fails, everyone fails. Yes, we also developed life-long friendships with individuals that we otherwise may never have met or talked to.
However, the ultimate goal was to build our allegiance to our work teams, our families, and most importantly, ourselves. There wasn't a single person in our group who didn't mention that they would be a better spouse, parent, or child (and that's to their real families back home, not some relationship fabricated by the organization).
3. A secret inner circle that follows the leader without question
We all followed reasonable instructions like "wait until everyone has arrived before entering the dining hall," but I'm confident that if instructed to eat a live goldfish or marry someone else in the group, we all would've respectfully declined.
Back in the day, the training methods and modules had an element of secrecy so that everyone goes in with an open mind. Rapport is an immersive experience designed to break down walls, and having a closed mind will stop that effort in its tracks. However, the secrecy element of the brand is no longer a thing.
4. Exploitation of members
Do you have to pay to be there? Of course. It's 2.5 days of room and board (have I mentioned how delicious the food is?), a facilitator to take you along the journey, and transportation to and from the facility. Did they ask us to sign over the rights to our homes and businesses, in any way damage our self-respect, or encourage fraternization of any kind between participants? Not that I'm aware of. Of course, I did have to run to the ladies room several times during the retreat, so maybe I missed something.
5. Not allowing members to leave the organization
Umm... there was a bus driver that delivered us right back where we came from. We were even told that if we were uncomfortable and wanted to leave mid-retreat, transportation would be provided. Sure, they invited us to come for future programs, but that's how all businesses run.
6. Pressure to make big decisions
I've saved this one for last because, honestly, I think it's the most important. The power behind cult psychology comes from forcing participants to make huge life decisions (like signing over their possessions, marrying random people, and "passing on to the next plane") while they are emotionally exhausted, raw, and not in their right state of mind.
One of the last things our facilitator said to us before we closed out on the final day... "Don't make any big decisions for the next two weeks. Allow yourself to adjust back into your life before you make any huge changes."
I rest my case.
What Happens at Rapport Leadership?
Stays at Rapport Leadership!
Just kidding (mostly). I can't divulge everything that will happen during your retreat. Not because I've been threatened but because:
- I don't want to ruin the experience for you. There is power in the unknown and stepping out of your comfort zone.
- Even if I wanted to ruin the experience, I wouldn't be able to. I'd be talking about it in the context of MY experience, and everyone gets something DIFFERENT out of the training. Rather than being recruited into an organization to follow their ideals, this is really about personal development.
You will be asked to do some (completely safe) things that may seem a little odd or silly. At times, that little voice inside your head that represents your Ego will yell "Nooooo! I’m melting!" But the entire experience is designed to improve your leadership skills, your faith in yourself, and your ability to care for those around you.
During the retreat, you'll be asked to craft a personal mission statement. You'll clearly identify what you do and why you do it and then be able to communicate it to your employees and your customers. You'll uncover what's been standing in your way (or better yet, how you've been standing in your way), and you'll learn how to break through those barriers. And, you'll learn what it really means to be a part of a team.
Can This Be Considered Brainwashing?
We're all human, and our natural response to things we don't understand is resistance, fear, and (if left unchecked) hatred.
Merriam-Webster defines "brainwashing" as a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas.
During my Rapport Leadership retreat, we never discussed politics or religion. If by "social" they mean the way that we interact with others and the way that we treat ourselves... yes, we covered that. However, we each came out of the experience stronger, more empathetic for those around us, and better prepared as leaders, family, and friends.
If that's considered brainwashing... toss me the soap.
Rapport Leadership will provide an experience like no other. Trust the person who nominated you. Trust that you can do everything you're being asked to do. Trust the process.
And don't worry, they don't even serve Kool-Aid.
About the Author
Sheryl Green has always enjoyed writing. However, it wasn't until a divorce shook her world that she discovered the power of story. Having penned three novels, she now brings her penchant for storytelling to non-fiction and content writing, working with businesses and individuals who want to position themselves as experts in their field. She leverages the power of story through blogging, website content, book coaching and ghostwriting, and speaking engagements. In her spare time, she is a passionate animal advocate and serves as the Director of Communications and Cuddling for Hearts Alive Village Las Vegas.
Sheryl is the author of "Surviving to Thriving: How to Overcome Setbacks and Rock Your Life" and "Once Upon a Bottom Line: Harnessing the Power of Story for Sales." Learn more at www.sherylgreenspeaks.com.