Reflections on Leadership from Phil Cass

Kate King on December 2, 2015

About 20 years ago I personally went through a period of deep reflection on my life as a leader and all of my thinking on what leadership is.  From that period of reflection I concluded that my image and approach to leadership (Hero Leadership) was at best outdated and probably fundamentally flawed.  I set about trying to reconcile my old notions of leadership with what I was experiencing and although I didn’t have the words for it at the time, I was directly experiencing the organizations I had responsibility for, as living systems.  Just as I as a human being: cannot be controlled, choose to pay attention to that which is of importance to me, self-organize, am in constant change and more, so too are the organizations that I lead.  I realized that organizations are simply networks of us living beings and of course our organizations then have the same characteristics.

So then what is the leadership for living systems?  I concluded that it must be highly participatory (not just on input but also decision making) and that my role needed to be hosting the intelligence of staff and Board into something that resembled collective intelligence.  I knew what end result I wanted but did not have the tools or skills at that time to realize these results.  The Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter training that I attended in 2002 opened me to and trained me in real world practical social technologies that could help me realize these intentions.

Now sixteen years later our four companies use Art of Hosting methodologies as our operating system. By all measure we are successful companies and we have very low staff turnover and very high staff commitment, we have been studied by academics to learn how this works and have been a model for several other corporations as well.  We have been part of training over 1,000 leaders in Columbus in these methodologies.  We have led a community wide participatory initiative called Our Optimal Health that has instigated major changes in our local health care system including the conversion of sufficient primary care sites to now care for 500,000 of our residents getting their care through patient centered medical homes.

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