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2 Leader Actions, Failures, and Successes
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.
5 Chairing the World Association for Person-Centered …
First of all: I (Elke Lambers) am not completely at ease with the term ‘transformational’
– it is not how I would ever describe my intentions as a leader/chair of the WAPCEPC. I
When I became chair, the organization was still in its infancy. We had made some
progress towards raising more interest in membership, but we had to battle some
prejudice and misunderstanding. There were some very negative views of the
organization and its supposed aims, and some familiar longstanding philosophical
differences among the wider group of members were also reflected in the board.
Board members also had different expectations of their role and responsibility on the
board, and, in my years as chair, I had to manage both the board dynamic and facilitate
the development of the Association-with all its ups and downs.
The word ‘transformational,’ to me, suggests: creating change that substantially alters
something, a remake or re-modelling, perhaps a revolutionary change.
That is not what I saw as my task, nor does it fit with my experience as chair, although I
do think that in my years as chair I contributed to the development and growth of the
Association-and there was change. But for me, it was about helping a process along,
without a huge personal investment in one particular outcome.
I will summarize in a few points the aspects of leadership that I think may facilitate
change and development:
• Understanding and meeting the dynamic between both the tendency and wish for
change and the reluctance and fear of change, and respecting both--but perhaps
especially the latter
• Having a broad cultural understanding: appreciating differences in perspective and
experience in different parts of the world and in different cultures or groups
• Being sensitive and empathic to cultural perceptions, especially where there is fear of
a dominant ideology supressing a minority
• Having a ‘vision,’ an idea of how things could be different, a confidence in the
process of change, understanding of the ups and downs of that process
• To put it in different words: having an idea of the course we are on, and keeping an
eye on the horizon, but being prepared to meet whatever is there on the way
• Being clear about what is expected of others, communicate about process and tasks,
show appreciation and respect, trust other people’s skills, encourage initiative
• Have no big personal investment in the outcome; humility; no big ego; selfawareness--understanding my own reactions and try to understand how others may
experience me. Knowing my impatience.
• Encouraging others: to take risks, explore different possibilities, trust their
contribution, value their strengths and different talents.
• An understanding that change and development is not a linear process--it goes in all
sorts of directions, sometimes backwards.
• Leaving before I burn out; not feel that I am the only person who can make a
difference, being happy to be part of a process.
• Off all these, encouragement is the word that has most meaning for me.
Fig. 5.1 Case interview with Elke Lambers, 6th July 2015
My (Patricia McCann’s) experience of working on the Board as member and now Chair
is that there are many dichotomies. Previously many in the community knew each other
directly or by reputation. One no longer necessarily meets the Board members at the
Conference at which they are elected, may not know them from previous experiences or
they may literally live in a different time zone. This is the case at present. In order to
address the various issues this raises, we meet electronically. I set up a regular skype
meeting across the world zones having to be aware of changes in daylight saving so all
can attend. The times range from 11pm Melbourne to 6:30am Caracas at the same
The individual members of the Board have undertaken a voluntary commitment, the
purpose of the Board generally is administrative and the approach is person-centered.
Taking these ‘competing commitments’ into consideration, what approach does a Chair
take when life intervenes and a member cannot complete a voluntary undertaking which
is a task that has important ramifications for the Board if not completed? How does one
facilitate discussion on a Skype meeting when an Internet connection is unclear and drops
out periodically, interrupting engagement in relationship and understanding of an issue?
There is a responsibility with each role of the Board and traditionally that finishes with
the Chair and how one negotiates completion of a task is essentially relational and
Fig. 5.2 Case interview with Patricia McCann, 21st June 2015
The question of who was transformed is most obviously answered, “me.” It is my
view that the person-centered approach operates by being open to letting yourself
learn and be changed by another. To accept (unconditional positive regard) and
understand (empathy) another while endeavoring to unconditionally accept and/or
understand your reactions to that (congruence) really is about letting yourself be
transformed. It is a paradoxical process of realizing how you are frequently powerless to directly change another, but not powerless to let yourself be changed and
thereby model to another how they too can be transformed by being open to
themselves and others. That being said, this process is frequently messy as can be. It
is about suffering. And my time as chair in particular involved a lot of suffering! I
also think that modeled being transformed. Likewise, the organization accomplished many things and more importantly did so through a process influenced by
the person-centered approach.
5 Chairing the World Association for Person-Centered …
Reflective Dialogue on: Chairing the World
Association for Person-Centered and Experiential
Psychotherapy and Counseling
In our perception, this case brings to light the issue of how a strictly hierarchical
setup influences or directs or limits leaders who are open, transparent, empathic
and, furthermore, who chair an organization that espouses these values. In that
sense, this is a perfect case for our consideration, as it directly deal with the issue of
how leaders can maintain some degree of influence on the organization’s success,
while being open, transparent, and ego-free. In other words, the case addresses the
questions: As a chair, can I live and act according to my person-centered value base
in a large, hierarchical organization? What challenges does a leader face who
himself is being open, transparent, flexible, etc., and has chosen to chair a traditional, hierarchic organization with rigid statutes and bylaws?
Indeed, this case example challenges us to look at the best example possible, as
the values of this organization (World Association for Person-Centered and
Experiential Psychotherapy and Counseling) appear to agree with the values we are
advocating in this book. So the challenges brought before us are pure in that they
are not influenced by other value systems. Yet issues, very real ones, remain.
The ﬁrst issue that the author brings to our attention is the role of
maintaining the integrity between the bylaws and the intentions of others
to offer initiatives counter to the bylaws. So what about the integrity of
owning his own feelings and desires for the group, he seems to ask. He
occasionally felt “bad … like a devil’s advocate,” instead of being true to
his inner feelings
Renate: Exactly, I guess he was facing the dilemma: “What is more important, my
own, personal values (that the organization that I’m chairing stands for),
or the organizational policies that I decided to follow when choosing to
become a chair?
David: Isn’t that a universal issue in leadership—to go with one’s own immediate
feeling as opposed to the “politically correct” option? Where is the
integrity dynamic applied—to one’s own self or to the organization as
seen more objectively?
Renate: Seems that somehow we’d need both, wouldn’t we? Following one’s
inner world, guided by the desire to stay congruent, and not breaking the
rules, respecting the organizational strategy, perhaps culture. Seems like a
real dilemma, or, as Maureen O’Hara called it in her book, the art of
“Dancing at the Edge.”
David: Right. And there’s one more intervening challenge that Jeff mentions as
well. One of the problems of modern leadership is the reliance on e-mail
communication. We’d probably all agree that e-mail communication is
not the best forum for problem solving. Deep awareness and
5.4 Reﬂective Dialogue on: Chairing the World Association for …
understanding of what others are trying to communicate rely on
non-verbal cues, such as facial expression, body language and social
distance. At least we can agree on that.
“Leaders are chiefly facilitators,” we are told. This is a dramatic statement,
though simple enough to understand. Would we all agree that there is a difference
between an “average” leader and a transformative one? If so, then leaders, particularly those who transform others, cannot be mere facilitators, or can they? As
Exhibit One, I bring to your attention none other than Carl Rogers.
Rogers’ uniqueness was his ability to have so much personal integrity that others
seemed to resonate to his comments and suggestions. Rogers spoke from his heart.
Even when he advocated something highly challenging and unfamiliar to others, he
was able to do so by sharing his deep, personal feelings about his experience in
coming to his thinking, so that his unusual offering of something challenging the
status quo, possibly in a very transformative way, was also a very personal statement on his part. He had this apparently unique ability to encase his deep intelligence with an openness and risking of self that crashed through the walls of normal
resistance. What a show of personal power!
Renate: I have several reactions to what you just said, David. First, the easy one: I
feel the same about Rogers: indeed, he had a special gift, talent, skill,
whatever you like to call it, to influence others in a direction toward
increased congruence and “functioning.” Second, you call Jeff’s “Leaders
are chiefly facilitators,” a dramatic statement and state that leaders,
particularly those who transform others, cannot be mere facilitators. If the
emphasis is on “mere,” I think I can go along with this, and to me Jeff’s
expression; “Leaders are chiefly facilitators” (italics added) hits the point.
I think that precisely the fact to be facilitative, equally for your
(congruent)-self that then can expand, as well as the others’ (and the
given context) in proper balance is a kind of art. Couldn’t the “magic” of
transforming leadership lie exactly in the ability to co-facilitate the
organization as well as yourself as a vital part of it, in other words a kind
of co-actualization between the facilitative leader, those being facilitated,
and the organization?
David: I agree with you completely that it is an art of co-actualizing one’s inner
sense of conviction and experience with the values and needs of the
organization being led, just as you describe above. Ideally, the leader who
is a facilitator has a keen sensitivity to the ongoing process of the
organization—made up not only of the rules that structure the organization, but also of the individual needs and perspectives of the leadership
team under her/him. The leadership team is like a ﬁne-tuned orchestra
sensitive to the music played by each member—particularly as it relates to
shared musical passages where their instruments must totally complement
one another—and where the facilitative leader is the conductor.