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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM23-QC-PP4: Leading from Experience: Spirit, Circularity and the Consultative Stance

Parallel Papers Session 1
Friday 30 June 13.30pm-14.45 SAST - VENUE 4
This presentation is STREAMED: a live broadcast from the venue with no online interaction. Moderators may announce zoom 'chat' questions can be submitted. Please 'mute' your microphone in consideration of other online participants and the audio recording.

Leading from Experience: Spirit, Circularity and the Consultative Stance

Presenters: Gerard Fromm, James Krantz, Donna Elmendorf & Dannie Kennedy


A number of years ago, the Center for the Study of Groups and Social Systems, which is the Boston Affiliate of the A. K. Rice Institute, offered a weekend workshop in small study group consultation. It was well-subscribed, over time doubled its capacity and has been offered on an annual basis since. But, in recent years, its staff has found itself trying to get to the essence of what we are doing, so that members can bring what began as group relations training into much broader application.  The result has been the “Leading from Experience” Workshop.

Grounded in group relations tradition, the Workshop emphasizes the value of inner experience as the primary guide to advancing work in any group or organizational context.   Recognizing and speaking to thoughts, associations, feelings, fantasies and other forms of experience in relation to the purpose of the group is what we are calling the consultative stance. Whether taken up formally as a designated leader or consultant or informally as a group member, the consultative stance involves recognizing one’s immersion in the dynamics of the group, paying attention to what one is feeling, thinking about and reacting to, and trusting that these experiences provide a window into what might be going on just outside of people’s awareness. This out-of-awareness phenomenon so often ignores – for dynamic reasons – the emotional lifeblood of the group, which at some level reflects its transcendent task or spirit, and ruptures the circular process in which a group’s work is enriched by ongoingly checking it against that spirit. Speaking to one’s experience in role we see as a form of leadership, particularly as it may help the group discover and speak to unseen contexts and potentially challenging dynamics.

In the Workshop we use self-study groups with a focus on the unfolding process to provide a grounding for participants to experience and develop their capacity to adopt a consultative stance.  Participants may take up formal consultative roles in the self-study groups or may participate exclusively as a group member.  Faculty observe the groups and meet publicly with consultants after each group to reflect on what happened. Two in-workshop mixed- membership review groups offer participants a chance to review their experiences as consultants and members. Application groups have been used to provide a second opportunity to lead from experience, by bringing experience from a back-home setting into interaction with the experience of application group members as they listen to the presenter. Most recently, we have used a Double Task event to bring the consultative stance to real-world dilemmas.

In this presentation, we will describe the Workshop more fully, including its structure, some critical moments and the evolution of our thinking.

Learning Objectives

Participants will be able to:

  1. Identify what is meant by "experience".
  2. Recognise how experience is part of a consultative stance.
  3. Identify the workshop events used to take up the consultative stance.

Biographical Summaries

Gerald Fromm is a Distinguished Member and past President of ISPSO, and a Distinguished Faculty Member and former director of the Erikson Institute of the Austen Riggs Center. He is a Fellow of the American Board and Academy of Psychoanalysis and has taught at, and consulted to, a number of psychoanalytic institutes in the United States. He is also the current President of the International Dialogue Initiative, an interdisciplinary group that studies societal conflict. His most recent book is Traveling through Time: How Trauma Plays Itself out in Families, Organizations and Society.

James Krantz, Ph.D. is an organizational consultant and researcher from New York City where he is Managing Principal of Worklab, a consulting firm focusing on strategy implementation and leadership development. His principal interests are with the impact of emerging trends on the exercise of leadership and authority; the social and technical dimensions of new forms of work organization; and the unconscious background to work and organizational life. Currently Jim serves as Visiting Professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow; Chair, Editorial Committee of the Journal of Organizational and Social Dynamics; and Faculty, Dynamics of Consulting at the Wharton Center for Applied Research. He has been on the standing faculties of Yale University and the Wharton School and has also taught at INSEAD, the McKinsey Center for Asian Leadership, Universidad de Chile, and Columbia University.