Jenai Wu Steinkeller, Ph.D. 2021-02-05T18:51:22+00:00

Jenai Wu Steinkeller, Ph.D.

I am a highly experienced Harvard-trained psychologist-consultant and executive coach based in Boston. As a psychologist and psychoanalyst coach, I bring 20+ years of understanding the deep structure of what makes people tick, and how to help them get to their goals.

People yearn to be valuable: to be able to offer value. Being fit and able contributors to life and society, while being one’s true and authentic self, is the precondition for deep fulfillment and happiness. Helping people be their best selves while finding and learning to respect their truest selves is my vocation and passion.

I work as an executive coach and management psychologist in business and organizations because I have great respect for these institutions and the importance of their contributions to the quality of societies we live in. We are all parts of a greater whole, and my niche is human psychology, with an emphasis on the nexus between psychodynamics, brain, emotion, biology, culture, and group behavior. In order to be better at what I do I have trained extensively past my Ph.D. training and studied at institutions such as Harvard, MIT, and the University of Chicago.

I have also served on the Faculty of Harvard Medical School for 25 years as well as taught as adjunct faculty at Harvard Law School, Tufts University Medical School , and Emerson College of Media Arts, and. In short, I am a practitioner, writer, facilitator, teacher, and researcher, but above all I am a persistent learner – learner of people, ideas, experiences, methods, and skills.

My Approach: A Synthesis

Paradoxes: Inner/Outer, Slower/Faster, Present/Future

Business, and for that matter, much of the world, is future-oriented. The thing that matters is to get results, achieve goals, make numbers, on time, and take practical action to secure safety and prosperity. This is how we get rewarded. That would be fine if it worked. Of course, there is an important place for the practical hum of smooth-running operations whose output must be predicted – our whole world depends on it. Trains and planes should run on time; schools should be open; manufacturers must coordinate supply chains, assemblers and distributors. Failure would lead to dysfunction and chaos. But the real world we live in, during our times, has become skewed toward moving faster, living for the future, and focused on outside wins. In fact, every process directed toward human change points to the importance of slowing down, embracing presence and the present moment, and tuning inward. Too much loyalty to fast/future/outer orientation disconnects people from their native rhythms and leads to stress, eventual breakdown, and a sense of depersonalization and dehumanization.

Over my years of helping people I have discovered that, while at first it can feel alien or difficult, slowing down, looking inward and experiencing presence can be deeply nourishing and exponentially enable practical effectiveness. This is more than borne out by science and how the brain works. The nervous system and human physiology operate on a rhythm that people get more out of by working with, than against. The brain loves present-moment focus. Non-stop future-oriented planning, worrying, thought recycling fags it out so that it loses its resilience for creation and new ideas. The deprioritization of emotional processing stops up every aspect of human functioning, eventually telling in severe compromise.

The paradox is that we need both. Outside behaviors are most effectively changed through inside work. Slowing down and stepping back gets people out of ruts and helps them to move forward. Though many are afraid of losing ground in the race to success, the deeper you go to move the levers of your own growth, the more exhilaration, positive energy, life force, and sustainable happiness you can source.
In my coaching work and all my work this is the start to help clients source their potential — through a bevy of approaches and techniques, but all based on a foundation of respectful, mutual inquiry, curiosity, and optimism.

Moving the Needle

Paradox means finding the right balance between reflection and action, intellect and emotion, forward propulsion and centered grounding. This means my work with clients starts with understanding the specific and concrete problems and contextual challenges you are trying to solve.

My training has been crafted to give me a repertoire of communication styles to connect with where people are at. I am comfortable in, and able to toggle between, direct and indirect, informal and professional, practical — and entirely comfortable helping clients navigate the amorphous realm of inner life. Frequently I help clients make connections between their cerebral and behavioral habits to body- and emotion-embodied understanding. To that end I use a lot of metaphors, images and stories to help clients connect to, and find levers of change within themselves.

Befriending Presence

I used to view my interest in fitness, yoga and mindfulness as separate realms from my profession — as part of my personal and spiritual life respectively. Now I see these as interchangeable. Each involves cultivating the capacity for presence, and the value of nurturing and respecting the body. Each cultivates curiosity, listening, and the willingness to appreciate and enjoy whatever is going on right now.

The quality and skill of befriending is the key activity whether you are talking about perspective-taking in successful negotiations, or summoning poise to look at fast-moving forces in the chaos of life. It is befriending, as opposed to antagonizing, tensing up, or resisting, that guarantees success. Befriending is a key aspect of mindfulness, resilience, conflict resolution and human growth in general.

Being able to accept all aspects of yourself and your experience with compassion and joy; developing the tolerance for other people’s behaviors and states of mind; accessing poise amidst chaos – this is what allows people to change and grow at warp speed – even while it is easier said than done.

Career History

Consulting and Coaching Psychologist

  • 20+ years private consulting and coaching practice, based in Boston. Specializing in senior leadership, women leaders, multinational organizations.
  • Collaborations. I have extensively shared clients with and collaborated with top-tier consulting agencies in coaching, learning, training and facilitating. These include:
    – Berman Leadership Consulting
    – Loeb Leadership Consulting
    – Potential Project
    – Conflict Management Group
  • Worked as Senior Consultant, Trompenaars-Hampden Turner. Amsterdam-based boutique culture- and strategy-focused consulting firm. Specializing in helping senior leaders of top Fortune companies resolve strategic, operational, or branding/identity dilemmas. My client work included coaching global leadership teams; post-integration (M&A) consulting; coaching cross-cultural negotiations; acting as a sounding board to senior leaders on issues such as succession; and facilitating diversity conversations in organizations.

Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst

  • 20+ years in private psychotherapy and psychoanalysis practice.
  • Staff psychologist & Faculty at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

Academic & Teaching

  • 25 years as Faculty of Harvard Medical School (Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology, etc.)
  • Lecturer, Tufts University School of Medicine
  • Adjunct Professor, Harvard Law School, Program on Negotiation
  • Adjunct Professor, Emerson College

Veterans, Trauma & Neuropsychology

  • Applied neuroscience and neuropsychological assessment of veterans or active-duty military
  • Expert witness on trauma-based psychological and cognitive injury

Trainer in Mindfulness, Resilience, Negotiation & Culture

  • 1-5 day workshops and 8-week trainings given to corporate clients across industries and levels from line to C-suite

Experiential Facilitator

  • Helped organizations and teams solve management, team, organizational and leadership impasses through experiential learning through approaches including:
    – Action Learning™
    – Strength- and resilience-based, positive-psychology approach
    – Negotiation, communication and conflict management skills
    – Inclusion and diversity-based difficult conversations

Education and Training

My Formal Education

  • Ph.D. Clinical Psychology. Northwestern University School of Medicine
  • Accredited Psychoanalyst and Graduate of Boston Psychoanalytic Society & Institute
  • Certificate in Executive Coaching, Zicklin School of Business, New York
  • Postdoctoral Fellowships in Group Dynamics & Advanced Psychotherapy, Harvard Medical School
  • Internship, Neuropsychological Assessment, Harvard Medical School
  • Graduate, CDL4 (Mindfulness & Meditation) 3-year teacher training at Spirit Rock
  • A.B., with Honors, The University of Chicago, Behavioral Sciences & Cultural Anthropology

My Postdoctoral Training & Education

Business, Organizations, and Systems

Business Education

  • 3-years, non-degree classes in Negotiation, Leadership, Organizational Behavior, Management, Strategy, Supply Chain & Globalization at Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, Sloan School of Management (MIT), U Mass Boston, and Broad College of Business.

Senior Leadership, Groups, Teams, and Organizational Behavior

  • Postdoctoral fellowship in Group Dynamics & Psychotherapy, Harvard Medical School
  • Coursework at Harvard Business School in General Management, Organizational Behavior, Global Management
  • Learned from all of my CEO, C-suite and Board Member clients, including several large-cap and mid-cap company CEOs and senior teams
  • A.K. Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems. 5-day Authority and Leadership experiential group learning to study how groups manage unconscious dynamics around power, choosing leaders and followership dynamics
  • Action Learning™ coach certification training through WIAL and private coach training with Action Learning master gurus Arthur Freedman and Skip Leonard. Action Learning is a powerful and experiential leadership and group problem-solving approach that harnesses team energy and redirects it to highly efficient organizational processes.
  • Member of Society for Consulting Psychology, a division of the world’s largest scientific, academic, and professional organization for organizational psychologists and executive coaches.

Negotiation & Conflict Management

  • Train the Trainer Program at Program on Negotiation (PON), Harvard Law School
  • Invited to co-teach the Negotiation Seminar at PON as Adjunct Lecturer
  • Co-led negotiation training workshops & facilitations with Roger Fisher’s (Getting to Yes) Conflict Management Group at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, faculty & deans of Ewha University (Seoul), etc.
  • Certified in Mediation by Mediation Works International

Culture and International Business

  • Participated in Management Across Cultures course at Harvard Business School, including co-teaching a segment
  • Worked as Senior Consultant at Trompenaars Hampden-Turner and extensive exposure to multinational clients training and using the Trompenaars Dimensions of Culture and Reconciliation Methodology for resolving senior leadership dilemmas.
  • Internship at Eaton Consulting Group

Team Coaching Approaches

  • Action Learning™
  • Systemic Team Coaching(Hawkins)
  • Team Diagnostic System (Wageman)
  • 5-Factor Model of Personality
  • Emotionally-focused therapy – a method designed to help couples and marital relationships but highly relevant in team relationships
  • Neuro-Affective Relational Model

Continuing Education in Psychology and Human Behavioral Change

Neuroscience, Brain & Emotion

  • Neuroscience assessment training, postdoctoral internship, Harvard Medical School
  • Postdoctoral Brain dissection course, Dept of Neuroanatomy, Washington U School of Medicine
  • Member of International Neuro-psychoanalysis Association
  • Training in Neuro-affective Relational Model™ & Somatic Experiencing™

Mindfulness & Mind-Body (Embodied) Forms of Learning

  • I have been learning various modalities of mindfulness and meditation (especially Vipassana) since the early 1990s, including sitting numerous residential retreats. I was nominated to do a rigorous teacher training which I completed in 2013.
  • I am fascinated by the concept of Embodied Learning – using the body to track and understand the psyche, emotions; to develop enhanced consciousness and emotional intelligence; and to increase health and healing. I am mid-training in both Somatic Experiencing™ and the Neuro-affective Relational Model™. Also includes mindfulness, yoga, and stress management.

Resilience, Working with Trauma & Positive Psychology

  • Resilience Train the Trainer by UPenn-based Positive Psychology / Resilience training
  • Somatic Experiencing (mid-training) for Trauma Healing
  • CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia)

Cognitive-Behavioral Learning & Change

  • Application of graduate training in cognitive-behavioral psychology in executive coach training at iCoachNY and International Society for Coaching Psychology

Communicating Effectively

  • Harvard Kennedy School of Government 15-week course on communication, speech, rhetoric, and other elements of effective communication
  • Action Learning™

My Affiliations and Publications

My active memberships include the Society of Consulting Psychology (SCP), I Coach NY, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), International Positive Psychology Association, Academy of Management, and the Boston Psychoanalytic Society.

Most of my academic publications are on topics such as cross-cultural negotiation and enemy psychology, or the intersection between culture, gender, and power. Trust and Other Anxiety in Negotiations: Dynamics across Boundaries of Self and Culture, co-authored with David Laws, is an article in Harvard Law School’s Negotiation Journal comprised of a micro-analysis of an email exchange between Argentine and Russian representatives of joint venture companies, whose interaction enters a vicious cycle of mistrust, due in part to cultural misunderstanding and in part to universal psychodynamics.

My Mission

What makes people fight? What makes people happy? What would make the world a better place?

All three questions have the same answer. Conflict is based on the passionate need of every living thing to support their own interest. The quest for power is ubiquitous. Personal control and mastery are impulses that begin in the first months of life, and when it goes awry, people learn to control others or submit to being controlled, to view relationships as a zero-sum game. Yet being a winner at the expense of others comes at the cost of affiliation and connection, without which people suffocate emotionally and spiritually. Individuals, families, communities, nations, spend decades trying to resolve this paradox. Success leads to profound fulfillment and relationships of mutuality and respect. Failure leads to conflict and destruction.

My mission is to help people find the straightest and shortest line to creating high-functioning communities by being their best and most authentic selves.

To do this I focus on the second part of that – being their best and most authentic selves: by helping each individual, each team, each organization work their way to optimal functioning. To do that, I leverage my understanding of the myriad specific psychological and interpersonal complexities that get in the way, and help people work past them.

Coaching/Consulting Examples

Coaching for Development

  • An executive who was being considered for succession to head his company was facing disqualification because he downplayed the importance of building rapport with others.
  • An entrepreneur who had recently moved her company to the US wanted a sounding board away from her office to discuss cultural assimilation and its impact on her leadership with a mainly US team.
  • A new manager needed help with his customary style of avoiding conflict.
  • An executive in the biotech sector sought career-related coaching to work through whether she was hitting a glass (organizational) ceiling or a development (personal) ceiling after not getting an expected promotion more than once.
  • A client whose job involved mainly creative output was increasingly running into blocks as the stakes became greater.

Aligning a Global Team

  • Worked with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to bring his senior leadership team, dispersed globally, to alignment around disparate cultural styles and values; as well as to help them operate as a team versus independent fiefdoms, which was easy to do given geographic dispersion. A secondary job was to provide the CEO confidential and neutral space for him to discuss concerns and insights relevant to his own succession.

Cross-cultural Negotiation

  • Helped the head of a company re-establish a positive connection with one of the company’s major clients who was of a different culture after he felt that a cultural faux-pas must have occurred to create alienation. The 4-month engagement involved listening carefully to the story for an in-depth understanding of what may have caused misunderstanding and mistrust to arise, separate what was interpersonal and what was due to different cultural expectations, then craft a strategy to re-engage the client and convey respect. This engagement also involved identifying key representatives for the delegation and coaching them around cross-cultural communication strategies and potential cultural pitfalls.

Diversity

  • Facilitated a dialogue and tolerance workshop following complaints of blatant sexist and racist slurs being propagated in a workplace.

Organizational Integration and Cross-cultural Team-building in Mergers & Acquisitions

  • Interviewed the Board and senior leadership of two retail companies of different primary nationalities post-acquisition. Helped to surface tensions around the perception that each side wasn’t trying hard enough to meet them half-way around cultural differences. Conducted further interviews and an anonymous survey to gather data for a day-long retreat with the top 30 leaders from both sides, to share these tensions openly and facilitate new ways of relating. A lot of laughter during the meeting ensued from recognizing that “differences” were more like commonalities.
  • Worked 18 months with a mixed industries HR leader, to help her company post-acquisition to integrate leadership teams from 2 different countries (formerly operating as silos); to identify talent from both legacy companies to lead the new, global company; and to craft new systems and processes that could leverage cultural diversity, promote integration and reduce nation- and culture- based splits. Additionally worked with the CEO of the company to help him emerge from his own habits of relating to his legacy leadership team to evolve into an expanded global identity. This consulting process involved helping both sides recognize deep loyalties that were based in culture and tradition, and which were surfaced in part by interviewing line and middle managers along with senior leadership.