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4 Personal Reflections on Carl Rogers’ Counseling Center in Chicago—A Case Study
4 Carl Rogers’ Counseling Center in Chicago—A Case Study
direction of the discussion, and yet relevant because they dealt directly with the
topic at hand. That’s the power of person-centered leadership. But that brand of
leadership can be distributed among all the members of the group, though it helps if
some individual or individuals can model that for the others.
In our Western culture, especially in management, humanistic or otherwise, it is
hard to imagine a totally leaderless group, though the dynamic of leadership can be
pervasive among its members. The most powerful concept we got from Carl Rogers
was that any group that did not deal with the underlying emotional dynamics of all
the members would be unlikely to reach its maximum potential as a functioning
group. In other words, attending to the people-oriented agenda in an appropriate
way is vital for succeeding as a group, team or organization.
So How Can Leaders Transform Their Organizations
for the Best of Their Members’ Growth
and Organizational Success?
Here is a quote from David Ryback’s book, Putting Emotional Intelligence to
Work, recalling some of the talks David had with Carl while walking the beach
behind his home in La Jolla:
“So at each step of the way,” I say, “the employee needs, or at least could use, honest
feedback—less hierarchy and more understanding feedback.”
“You see,” now Carl is beginning to show signs of excitement, “that’s where the magic
comes in—that special feeling when two people are really communicating, when the formality is given up anda real sharing is taking place, so both people are learning.”
“What’s the boss learning?” I ask, knowing the answer, but wanting to hear it in Carl’s own
“The magic of careful attentiveness to someone whose welfare you care about,” he says
with that special glint in his eyes, articulating the elegant simplicity of his theory better than
an armful of textbooks. “If that employee really feels listened to and understood—deeply
understood—then he will work to the best of his ability, be eager to grow and will feel
intensely loyal to his company.”
Feeling listened to and understood are the keystones to this new way of management. This may sound so extremely easy, however, as you, the reader, may have
experienced, can pose a real challenge, if the understanding is to be comprehensive,
covering what really matters to this person in the context of the organization in this
In our view, the best humanistic leaders are those with the least ego issues. The best
humanistic leaders are not ambitious for power or attention. Rather, they are
4.4 Personal Reﬂections on Carl Rogers’ Counseling Center …
fulﬁlled by the dissemination of power and attention among the group, in a way that
feels fair, relevant and authentic. They tend to query others as to their ideas and
opinions rather than advertise their own and be more likely to appear hesitant and
ambivalent, even passive, as they survey all the resources in the individuals around
them. Humanistic leaders are busy giving up their leadership at every opportunity
(as did Rogers), but their “leadership,” at the core, is precisely their determination
to give each individual the safe space to risk revealing her/his option to act in a
responsible and responsive manner, to offer an opinion or solution to the matter at
hand, and, ultimately, to make themselves invisible in terms of power and attention,
except for the sensitivity and fair-mindedness so necessary to keep things going in a
Besides Rogers’ personal capacities, his trusting the staff, and sharing power,
some features stand out that contributed to the success of the Counseling Center at
the University of Chicago.
Keeping Interface Conditions
From the perspective of a hierarchical organization consisting of units or departments, the way Rogers and his team chose to interface with the rest of the organization is noteworthy. Rogers and his staff kept what we would call the “interface
conditions.” For the sake of being compliant with the administration of the rest of
the organization, they transferred their open, flexible practices to a few rigid documents. This way, they met the requirements of the organization on top, and not the
other way round, namely to interfere with the encompassing, traditionally administered, big organization. In brief, the “adaptation of practices at the interface”—
from the side of Rogers—served to comply with the rules of those in power.
Another essential feature were the staff meetings, in which all staff participated and
could bring up whatever they considered relevant. This reminds us of a community
meeting in the person-centered tradition that allows each to be transparent, open and
yet in a respectful tone und with a deep desire to understand the other. It is a means
to renew and strengthen person-centered attitudes and thus to advance personal,
interpersonal, and organizational capacities to move forward, whatever forward
may mean to each and their organization.
4 Carl Rogers’ Counseling Center in Chicago—A Case Study
Cooperation Over Competition
An essential dynamic was the setup that puts cooperation between staff members
and their moving forward on their own projects far ahead of competition.
Nevertheless, there must have been some degree of competition since resources
naturally were limited and not all staff could stay endlessly long. Also, there was no
competition—in the traditional sense—with the outside world, except for excellence and acknowledgement of research and practices and for acquiring research
In any business, proﬁt is essential if the enterprise is to survive. A humanistic
business not only survives in an economic world but also creates a working space
where all associates can enjoy the process of mutual togetherness in a way that we
were meant to be (Ryback 1998). Empathy is the lubricant that enables groups to
mesh and work together most effectively. The research reveals that such groups
make more money (Spencer and Spencer 1993), have less turnover (Spencer et al.
1997), get better ratings on their management styles (Lopes et al. 2006) and, most
important, ﬁnd their work most meaningful (Rode et al. 2008). This, I daresay, may
be the wave of the future.
Person-Centered Attitudes and Skills
In our view there is, however, a characteristic that applied to the Counseling Center
that would be hard to achieve for other units: the very core for the “functioning”
and impact of the Person-centered approach, being the degree to which staff
members already had developed their person-centered attitudes and thus were able
to live them and to pass them on in the organization and beyond. Thus, we in the
next generation, we who want to promote and facilitate the Person-centered
approach that we have seen can bring about unbelievable transformation and result
in unbelievable productivity coming genuinely from the people without external
control or regulation—are left with a signiﬁcant puzzle. How can we facilitate the
personal transformations needed in people to really function in a truly democratic,
truly person- or people-centered unit (if not organization) and bring about the
unbelievable creativity and productivity that Rogers managed to set free in his
Part of further elaborating on that question will be to listen and reflect to what
four colleagues-friends who embodied a humanistic leadership style experienced
and were willing to share in the subsequent four chapters.
Lopes, P. N., Grewal, D., Kadis, J., Gall, M., & Salovey, P. (2006). Evidence that emotional
intelligence is related to job performance and affect and attitudes at work. Psychothema, 18,
Rode, J. C., Mooney, C. H., Arthaud-Day, M. L., Near, J. P., & Baldwin, T. T. (2008). Ability and
personality predictors of salary, perceived job success, and perceived career success in the
initial career stage. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 16(3), 292–300.
Rogers, C. R. (1978). On personal power. London, UK: Constable.
Rogers, C. R. (1980). A way of being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Rogers, C. R., & Russell, D. E. (2002). Carl Rogers the quiet revolutionary an oral history.
Roseville, CA: Penmarine Books.
Ryback, D. (1998). Putting emotional intelligence to work (p. 28). Boston:
Spencer, L. M., McClelland, D. C., & Kelner, S. (1997). Competency assessment methods. Boston:
Spencer, L. M., & Spencer, S. (1993). Competence at work. New York, NY: Wiley & Sons.
Chairing the World Association
for Person-Centered and Experiential
Psychotherapy and Counseling
Jeffrey H.D. Cornelius-White
Introduction and Context
This case reveals the purpose, goals, and structure of the World Association.
Subsequently, I share my experience as serving as a chair, focusing on surprisingly
powerless leadership activities, virtual communication around the world, and
reflections on the effects of person-centered leadership.
The World Association for Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy and
Counseling (WAPCEPC) is dedicated to promoting person-centered and experiential perspectives internationally. Its purpose is to serve as a forum for fostering
exchange of research, theory, and practice and stimulates cooperation and dialogue
with other psychotherapeutic orientations. WAPCEPC operates under speciﬁc
principles that relate to person-centered and experiential approaches and an openness to development and elaborations from those. It operationalizes goals related to
cooperation between organizations, supporting individuals, promoting related scientiﬁc study, and sociopolitical processes, including an international conference and
high-quality journal (WAPCEPC 2000).
The structure of WAPCEPC consists of individual and organizational members,
regional chapters with various committees and individuals to oversee different
functions, all operating within the contexts of statutes and bylaws. There are about
505 individuals and 35 organizations (WAPCEPC 2012). The general assembly
occurs once every two years at the biannual conference. The board reports on
speciﬁc topics to the general assembly and requires a vote for any change to the
bylaws or signiﬁcant new venture. The board stewards the organization in the
interim and proposes policies to implement decisions of the General Assembly, and
a part time paid administrator oversees routine daily tasks. The board includes a
chair, treasurer, and secretary and can include up to nine people by statute though
With reflections by Renate Motschnig and David Ryback
© Springer International Publishing AG 2016
R. Motschnig and D. Ryback, Transforming Communication in Leadership
and Teamwork, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45486-3_5
5 Chairing the World Association for Person-Centered …
other roles are often frequently held and shared by board members, such as
newsletter editor and liaison to the conference organizing committee. A conference
organizing committee, a scientiﬁc committee, auditors, election committee, and/or
small groups provide speciﬁc functions.
WAPCEPC publishes an indexed journal, Person-Centered and Experiential
Psychotherapies with over 2000 subscribers in both print and online versions. The
journal is led by a team of co-editors and includes dozens of reviewers and other
persons (book review editor, copy editors, language reviewers, etc.) who help
solicit, mentor, and publish authors’ work.
Leader Actions, Failures, and Successes
I served on the board of the WAPCEPC from 2006–2010, two terms, and as chair
from 2008–2010, one term. What did I say and do? A lot. There were thousands of
email communications. Including some I’m proud of and some I’m not. I want to
highlight a few themes related to my time as chair: serving the principles and
guidelines of the organization, communication frequency, means, and quality,
interdependence and facilitation.
The ﬁrst thing I felt like I learned was that leaders have limits. In a large, democratic
organization like the WAPCEPC they are meant to serve more than they are to
initiate. This is an inversion of typical visions of what it will feel like to be a leader,
or even what it has felt like to me to be a leader in other contexts, including
person-centered context. I saw my purpose as chair of WAPCEPC to serve the
organization, which means to follow the voice of the general assembly and follow
the principles of the bylaws and statutes. As a chair, a difference from being an
individual member, organizational member representative, and board member, I felt
a responsibility to understand and uphold the tenets, to represent in essence the
bylaws and statutes as a party in each discussion and activity. This resulted in
leadership that felt “bad” to me because it was not clearly fostering the people
around me, but essentially helped the integrity of the organization; it was a
responsibility to a role, a contrast to the person-centered value of not playing roles,
and being true to oneself. When board members threw out ideas or developed plans
to further the aims of the organization, I felt like a naysayer to initiatives by board
members, a devil’s advocate, voicing the limitations of the board as essentially a
group meant to follow through on plans and suggest new plans to the General
Assembly more than to lead or initiate directly. While I tempered my view during
my term through the influence of others, my ﬁrst learning was that person-centered
leaders have a different constituency than other persons in person-centered organizations, the constituency of limits.
5.2 Leader Actions, Failures, and Successes
There was an enormous amount of email communication in the board, particularly
during my time as chair. The second thing I want to highlight is that email communication is a poor way to realize the core person-centered attitudes. A small
study by Grafanaki (2001) found that they were all three primarily communicated
nonverbally, not verbally (from three times as much with empathy to 23 times as
much with congruence). I learned this the hard way. I saw myself and others, who
are frequently seen as experts at listening, do a poor job of listening within this
email context. And once that poor listening occurred, resolving conflict through
email was even harder. We did result to telephone and Skype conversations at
times, which were pretty successful, but probably lost potential potency and productivity of board members through these failures. On the plus side, the board did
recommend to the General Assembly and the future boards to have and to fund
more regular face-to-face meeting through Skype and in person, in part to increase
the likelihood of person-centered communication.
The third theme is about interdependence. Any group of people functions best when
leaders are so transparent and facilitative that they become invisible. This may seem
a contrast to the two themes above, but it should seem right at home in a discussion
of person-centered practice. Leaders are chiefly facilitators, persons who listen well,
and help empower those they work with to become who they can be and help foster
a group’s goals through individual visions and actions. In this sense, I feel humbly
indebted to the other board members I served with. It was a privilege to serve with
them and see how the complementary functions of a group, despite and at times
because of conflict, release wisdom and inspire others. In particular I want to
acknowledge the other chairs of the WAPCEPC.
Elke Lambers had served as chair from 2000–2008, three terms, the limit, and
provided invaluable motivation, responsibility, stability, clarity, and insight to the
organization and to me. Susan Stephen served on the board from 2008–2014, three
terms, and was chair from 2010–2013. Susan epitomizes diplomacy. Patricia
McCann, on the board since 2012, two terms, and serving as chair from 2013 to the
present, currently fosters the aims of the organization. I invited each of them to
share a few words of wisdom with two of them providing some impressions in
Figs. 5.1 and 5.2.