Teaching the Universal Language

“THE ONLY PLACE THAT I HAVEN’T worked is Antarctica, and that’s just because those darn penguins don’t take Venmo,” jokes Bob Anderson ’82, who has spent the past 20 years crisscrossing the globe teaching the power of emotional intelligence. Along with his wife, Heather, Anderson runs Leading Challenges, which helps organizations and individuals grow and succeed. “To put it simply,” he says, “we’re here for anybody whose current level of social-emotional functioning gets in the way of them being all they were meant to be.”

When he arrived at Taft, Anderson never anticipated the impact the school would have on him. “I don’t want to know my life without Taft,” he says. “The idea of service wasn’t just a Latin motto, it was harnessed and demonstrated every day.” He carried the spirit of Non ut sibi with him to Norwich University, the nation’s oldest private military college, and then into the United States Army between 1986 and 1991.

“People say that I lived a lifetime in five years in the military. I stuck my hand up for every deployment,” he continues. “I was stationed in South Korea in the Demilitarized Zone, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Israel, Germany, Canada, and in Iraq and Kuwait during the Gulf War. I met so many people who were different than I was, and it made me so interested in the world.”

After being discharged from the Army, he pursued a career in education, attending Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and teaching in private schools on both coasts. But as he and Heather prepared to welcome their first child, they were also ready to realize another dream. “We wanted to start our own company and use emotional intelligence to guide people,” he recalls, “so in 1999, we founded Leading Challenges.” Anderson approached this new endeavor as he does everything else—with a hunger for knowledge. “Anytime we wanted to learn anything, we pounded the doors of the scientists and authors—at Yale, MIT, you name it.”

Anderson considers himself an “applied researcher,” taking what he learns from academics and translating it into useful tools for his clients. “When something isn’t working at an organization, be that leadership struggles or problems within the team, we get brought in like an orthopedist. We set the leg and get them back to health,” he explains. “The language of emotional intelligence is universal. Whether I’m with Maasai warriors or in Vancouver with the Canucks [hockey team], or working with a coffee-roasting company out of Brunswick, Maine, it’s the same language.”

Bob Anderson ’82, cofounder of Leading Challenges and 1Hero Sports.

Bob Anderson ’82, cofounder of Leading Challenges and 1Hero Sports.

Over the past two decades, Leading Challenges has become a leader in the field, training more than 60,000 people each year. And as the company continued to grow, Anderson saw an opportunity to expand their reach. “I was working with a three-time Super Bowl champion whose life was in a shambles. His self-regard was crumbling every day,” Anderson remembers. “He needed a hero—one hero. Somebody to be that light for him. But it wasn’t about reaching out and trying to emulate somebody; it was about finding that hero within himself.”

Anderson combined his passion for fitness— he has nearly two dozen marathons and ultramarathons under his belt—with the skills that he had honed at Leading Challenges to create 1Hero Sports, which is targeted specifically toward athletes, coaches, and their support systems. “The language is universal, but for some groups, 1Hero serves as a better can opener,” he points out. “For instance, if I work at a school, I do it under 1Hero because they like to learn what athletes are learning.”

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic presented Anderson with a new set of challenges. “Typically, I would travel two and a half weeks every month, but now, so much of my work has to be done virtually, which just isn’t the same. There’s nothing like learning in person.” he says. Ever the optimist, though, he has found the positives of working remotely. “I’m actually able to have more of an influence. In four days, I can give different presentations for groups in four distinct locations. Under normal circumstances, that would have taken two weeks. I once even woke up at 2 a.m. to fit in an 8 a.m. meeting in Stockholm!”

“I’m grateful that I can keep helping people,” he says. “We’ve been isolated, which is one of the worst things for human beings. We all feel this despair, and for our emotional health, our emotional fitness, this is the exact language that we need right now.”

—Christopher Browner ’12