As a young man preparing to become a public school teacher in Northern California in the 1970s, I was fortunate enough to accidentally choose a credential program the faculty of which was steeped in the philosophy of Carl Rogers, a noted American psychologist and one of the founders of the humanistic (meaning client-oriented) school of psychology.
For me one vivid passage of Rogers’ book, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, published in 1954, was all I needed to build a personal philosophy for teaching and later for being a manager and coach. According to Rogers, the key question most new therapists think they should ask a new client is: “What do I have to do to change this person so that he or she can better function?” For more experienced therapists, however, that question changes to: “What kind of relationship must I develop with this individual to enable him or her to flourish?”
Rogers made it a point to create an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard, another of his hallmark beliefs, for his client and himself. In doing so, he removed the stigma of affliction that infects so many therapeutic situations, as well as other developmental endeavors such as teaching and coaching, and replaced it with one of respect and wholeness. That underlying attitude on the part of the expert—the therapist, teacher, coach, or parent—can make all the difference in the life of the client, the student, the player, and the child.
If attitude is everything when it comes to getting things done, which assumes that some sort of productive change has to take place, then the attitude of the leader has to be the most critical.
A side benefit of removing the stigma of affliction is that it places a level of responsibility on the client or learner to play a substantial role in her own wellness and development. And this concept brings about a fresh sense of wholeness to the relationship, in which there is joint ownership of the processes of healing and learning. In essence, it creates a team approach—and teams are hard to beat, and good teams can be invincible over periods of time.
Indeed, Rogers’ classic work on the human potential for growth and creativity has underpinned my entire professional and personal life. It colors my judgment about people and the situations we get ourselves into almost entirely. It has helped me better evaluate and work with leaders, managers, and co-workers.
In my experience, many leaders and managers, including teachers and coaches, either misunderstand or misapply team concepts, even those of who willingly acknowledge that team-building is their primary function. Part of the reason for this is that graduate and professional schools, as well as public and private organizations, do not introduce many team-building experiences into their curricula. In other words, they do not practice what they preach.
Another reason is that leaders, particularly in the private sector, are most often compensated based on the attainment of financial results, instead of the achievement of the mission of the organization. This unbalanced emphasis on quantity over quality also shows up when we compare the compensation of a CEO versus an entry-level employee. In some organizations, the disproportion multiple can be as much as 500 times or more. This structural and economic dysfunction has broad and deep consequences in business and education—or anywhere people assemble to create change and progress. Just imagine the productivity gains of having competent leaders that we could enjoy were things done differently.