Recently, I read several chapters from On Becoming a Person, a collection of lectures and essays Carl Rogers compiled in 1961 from previously written material. Rogers was a psychotherapist, but he suggested that much of what he had learned in work with clients could be applied in any relationship where one person is helping another to grow and mature.
Rogers emphasized the importance of being a true self. Elements of becoming a self include having a purpose in life, and being able to differentiate from the expectations others may place on you. This might mean not being brought down by another person’s depression, upset by another person’s anger, consumed by being relied upon too greatly, or dependent on the love or approval of another. However, identifying purpose and values does not equate with remaining in a fixed position. On the contrary, the well defined self is a person who can accept others for who they are, able to note and observe without judging and able to empathize at a very deep level without taking on the other person’s emotional state.
In the presence of a leader who exhibits these qualities, others are more likely to realize their potential. A psychologically mature leader is able to create an accepting climate in an work system. Under accepting and supportive conditions, Rogers predicted that people could become more responsible for self, more creative, and better problem solvers.
Rogers’ work has a timeless quality. In fact, the book is still in print, and an edition is available for the Kindle. A workplace with more mature leaders is bound to be a workplace that functions more effectively; a world with more mature leaders is bound to be a world with more creative problem solving and more empathy for others. Fifty years after publication, Rogers’ work still has much to teach us about leadership development.