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2 Leader Actions, Failures, and Successes

2 Leader Actions, Failures, and Successes

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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.


Other Chairs

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

will explain.

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

5.3 Transformations


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.

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