L.E.T.: In the Service of Something Greater Than Itself

Some time ago, somebody posted this quote on Facebook:

April, 2019, leadership, blog“We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and ‘success’, defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” (Chris Hedges, 2009)1

You Talkin’ to Me?

Although when I first read it I wasn’t quite sure of the author’s intent, what he seemed to be saying struck me as being somewhat disparaging and admonishing in tone. So much so that one of my reactions was, “You talkin’ to me?” – as if something in me wanted to stand up to Chris Hedges and push back in some way.

Was I being a bit paranoid and misreading him? Or did his assertions that we’ve erroneously come to believe that training for monetary success is education, and that management techniques constitute wisdom, suggest that leadership training was suspect in his mind as well? For example, what would he say about Leader Effectiveness Training (L.E.T.)? Would he say that there’s really nothing about it that’s educationally substantive or constructively contributory to the common good? Would he say that its emphasis on building leaders’ interpersonal skills as a means of improving organizational outcomes is just another example of training for career enhancement and corporate success and nothing more? I wondered.

A Double-Take and a Trip Back in Time: Mary and the “Training” Word

Nevertheless, and despite my cautious curiosity, I had to be honest: There was also something bold, penetrating, and sobering about Hedges’ statement. And it had me doing a double-take. In fact, after reading the quote several more times and mulling it over, it sparked a recollection, full and strong, of a time when a human resources manager at a major healthcare organization (I’ll call her “Mary”) shared with me a secret “pet peeve” of hers. In retrospect, what she was concerned about and had to say bears some resemblance to Hedges’ provocative observations.

Mary’s complaint was about the use of the word “training” as a descriptor for the leadership education program that she and her colleagues had begun to create, and for which they had secured my consulting services to assist in the process. In addition, she confided that she had a dislike for the word “trainer” when referring to the instructor role in the upcoming program’s L.E.T. courses that I was to offer  and favored “facilitator” or “workshop leader”, or simply “course instructor” or “teacher” instead.

Having been a proverbial user of the “training-trainer” terminology for some time, I was of course interested in what gave rise to Mary’s uneasiness. But when I asked her to say more about it, I was a bit taken aback when her initial response went something like this: “Well, for one thing, the very word – ‘training’- carries some unfortunate connotations and can evoke some mental images or associations that I don’t think are compatible with the kind of educational experience I’d like for our people to have.”

She went on: “For example, we may be trainers of our pet dogs, taking them through repetitive exercises, giving them some rewards, and then hopefully having them perform in ways that we want them to – to ‘Sit!’, or ‘Go fetch!’, or ‘Stay!’, or whatever. But to think and to speak of training people, or of being ‘trainers’ of people – especially when our CEO’s announced purpose of this L.E.T. learning experience is ‘to improve communication and collaboration among staff and enhance team performance so we can become more competitive and more profitable in this demanding healthcare marketplace’ – well, sorry, but as important as those objectives might be, I worry that asking people to comply and to get ‘trained’ in the L.E.T. skills so the organization can be more successful, limits our focus and dilutes what we might learn about leadership.

I could have shared with Mary some misgivings I had about some of her comments, let her know that for me her trainer-pet dog analogy was a bit over-the-top, and then sought to make the case for an understanding of the training word  that cuts a much broader swath than her comparison implied. But two things flagged me in a different direction.

Mary’s Concession: The Practical Relevance of Workplace Training

One was that as we continued to talk, she made it very clear that she was quite aware of the need for training in almost all fields of human endeavor. In fact, she believed that the training word was an apt descriptor for the learning processes involved in the acquisition of a variety of workplace skills in her own organization. As examples she mentioned the importance of hands-on training for the safe and proper operation of new patient care monitoring equipment, and she cited the need for continuous training in computer software skills so office personnel were supported as advancements in technology occurred. So, despite her initial and somewhat jarring “pet dog” analogy, it became clear that Mary had no intention of campaigning for the training word’s removal from the lexicon of workplace terminology.    

Going Deeper and the “What’s It All About?” Question

But the second thing that had me detouring away from questioning Mary’s characterization of the training word was that the more she talked and the more I listened, the clearer it became that her misgivings about the word’s use in relation to leadership education – and in relation to L.E.T. in particular – represented but the tip of an iceberg. A deeper concern had given rise to her discomfort, and it was one that turned out to be akin to a longtime preoccupation of my own. I especially sensed an affinity between us when she asked at one point, “Is there not some larger, underlying purpose in the service of which we want to encourage the learning of interpersonal skills for leaders – something more than ‘training’ folks in what we call ‘people skill tools’ so they can help increase participation and collaboration and make the organization more successful? I mean, I know that’s important, but is that it? Is that all there is? Is that what it’s all about?” 

L.E.T. – In the Service of Something Greater Than Itself

As I continued to actively listen as Mary sought to clarify her quest for “something more”, my personal intrigue with what she was saying grew ever stronger. And that was because when conducting L.E.T. workshops over the years, I sometimes experienced a recurring felt sense of my own that there was more to what I was doing than what I was doing when working to facilitate people learning the skills of L.E.T.                                     

“….more to what I was doing than what I was doing…..” What I mean by that is that even as my enthusiasm for the applicability to organizational life of the ingenious model that Tom Gordon had created continued to grow over time, increasingly I experienced its organizing principle of Problem Ownership and its tangible skills of Active Listening, I-Language, Shifting Gears, and Method III Conflict Resolution as something more than a set of interpersonal tools that could be learned and used to help leaders become more effective, organizations more productive, and workplace relationships more satisfying. Certainly, they were that.

But I also began to appreciate their educational significance as carriers of a new consciousness into organizational and community life – one that would not have been given birth and evolved had it not been for the contributions of Carl Rogers and Tom Gordon during the mid-20th  Century and beyond. Of course, other contributions to the study of leadership within the human relations movement and the social sciences during that period yielded significant learnings about the importance of two-way communication and collaboration in the life of organizations.

But it was Rogers’ empirically researched discovery of the core relational conditions of Acceptance (Unconditional Positive Regard), Empathy, and Genuineness (Congruence) and their formative role in facilitating the personal growth of the individual – as well as in helping to make possible the creation of   rewarding collaborative outcomes in our interactions with others – that introduced revolutionary new knowledge to humankind2. And over time, that knowledge has been increasingly cultivated, appreciated, and carried forward in a variety of ways3. In particular, with his own early interest in democratic leadership, it was Tom Gordon’s remarkable adaptation and application of Rogers’ findings to the lived process of leading and influencing outcomes in the present moments of human interaction that brought a new awareness into organizational life of how to create those relational conditions that can lead to collaborative, democratic results.

Back to the Future

And so, when I think about it now, it’s confirming to me that earlier on I had that felt sense that there was “more to what I was doing than what I was doing” when introducing people to the skills of L.E.T. And looking ahead – with that same sense very much alive in me – I believe that those of us who have been introduced to the Gordon Model, found it captivating, and become enthusiastic advocates for its dissemination in the world of work and beyond, are indeed on an educational frontier – one that is, in fact, historic in its mission to make available previously unknown information about how to create the relational conditions in the here and now that make it possible for people to trust each other, to share power in decision-making, and to mutually invent collaborative, democratic outcomes together.

And now, as I read again that 2009 quote of Chris Hedges, I’m thinking that if I meet him on the road someday, I know I’ll want to make sure he understands that with L.E.T., it’s really not about getting “trained” to use some techniques that we call “Active Listening”, “I-Language”, “Shifting Gears”, and “Method III Conflict Resolution” so we can add them to our workplace toolbox, all ready to use in the sole cause of our organizations becoming more successful. I’ll seek instead to invite him in the direction of appreciating the educational significance of these skills as brilliantly created conduits through which we can learn to channel the power of our personal energy4 as we seek to cultivate genuinely collaborative and democratic outcomes together in our organizational and communal lives.


  1. Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Nation Books, 2009
  2. “A theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework,” by C.R. Rogers in S. Koch (Ed.), Psychology: A study of science. Vol.3 “Formulations of the person and the social context”. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959.
  3. See especially Positive Regard – Carl Rogers and Other Notables He Influenced , Science and Behavior Books, Inc. Palo Alto, California, 1995. Also, see Eugene Gendlin’s “Foreward”, pp. xi-xxi in Carl Rogers – The Quiet Revolutionary Carl R. Rogers and David E. Russell, Penmarin Books, 2002
  4. See Carl Rogers On Personal Power- Inner Strength and Its Revolutionary Impact, by Carl R. Rogers, Ph.D., Constable and Company Ltd,1978; reprinted in 2016 by Robinson Publishing

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