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Awakin Calls » Phil Cass

Phil Cass: Community Leader, Host, Strategic Consultant, Nonprofit CEO
Dec 8, 2018: Transforming Leaders and Communities


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Blog entry and transcript coming soon!  

Phil Cass is a host, facilitator/trainer and consultant, a mentor and part-time college level instructor, a constant advocate for community, and a life-long student. For the past two decades, Dr. Cass has put into practice methods of leadership throughout his community of Columbus, Ohio that move beyond the hierarchical, "top-down" method of leading, in favor of a model where the leader is not a hero, but a host who creates a space and conversational process that encourages a collective intelligence to emerge, and where everyone involved comes up with something that they could never do alone. During Phil’s 16-year tenure (from 2000-2016) as CEO of four affiliated not-for-profit health corporations — the Columbus Medical Association, Columbus Medical Association See full.
Phil Cass is a host, facilitator/trainer and consultant, a mentor and part-time college level instructor, a constant advocate for community, and a life-long student. For the past two decades, Dr. Cass has put into practice methods of leadership throughout his community of Columbus, Ohio that move beyond the hierarchical, "top-down" method of leading, in favor of a model where the leader is not a hero, but a host who creates a space and conversational process that encourages a collective intelligence to emerge, and where everyone involved comes up with something that they could never do alone.

During Phil’s 16-year tenure (from 2000-2016) as CEO of four affiliated not-for-profit health corporations — the Columbus Medical Association, Columbus Medical Association Foundation, Physicians Care Connection and Central Ohio Trauma System — he implemented this model of leadership as host.  He convened a group of leaders of local healthcare institutions, along with some community members, with the idea that they could rethink their purpose — from the zero-sum game of treating the sick, to a system that would promote optimal health.  His initial experiments with conversational leadership later led to the creation of a county-wide multi-stake-holder initiative, Our Optimal Health, aimed at creating a fundamental shift in individual and community well-being while simultaneously enabling the current health system to function more effectively.

As Margaret Wheatley, notable author and thought leader in organizational learning and change, described, “To bring all these people together, [Cass] had to shift his own internal construct of what it meant to be an effective leader. He was already a skilled, traditional heroic leader; now he became the kind of leader whose first responsibility is not to command others, but to ensure that they feel invited and welcome, so they can participate in making something happen that none of them could do alone.”

With the catalytic effect of his transformational style of leadership, more and more people in Columbus became trained in productive conversational leadership processes that include all relevant stakeholders in figuring out problems and solutions. This form of leadership continued to spread into institutions within the community — the Ohio Food Bank, hospitals, Ohio State University, even to a federal initiative on homelessness.  Columbus has as a result become a model of change for other municipalities and organizations, and Phil's and the community's work were the subject of a chapter of Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now (2011), by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze, which highlighted people who have walked out of limiting beliefs and assumptions and walked on to create healthy and resilient communities.

Phil was inspired to transform himself and his leadership style when, in 2002, he attended The Shambhala Institute—Authentic Leadership in Action (ALIA), where he met skilled practitioners of circle and community building from around the world who profoundly changed his entire approach to leadership. They were practicing the Art of Hosting, conversational processes that resolve conflicts, develop strategy, analyze issues and develop action plans. Like the open-source computer operating system Linux, the Art of Hosting has been described as a set of social technologies that allow for order without control. Its “source code” is a set of core principles and practices for how to host 12 conversations that matter: setting intention, creating hospitable space, asking powerful questions, surfacing collective intelligence, trusting emergence, finding mates, harvesting learning and moving into wise action.

Phil has provided hosting/facilitation and training for numerous organizations locally and internationally, and has served on many Boards of community organizations.  His passions are in helping organizations create cultures of participatory leadership, collaborative strategic planning, thriving environments for staff to excel, and community mental health. He is now affiliated with the TLP Group, Inc. a strategic consultation, process design, facilitation and coaching company where integrity and wholeness open up possibilities for clients.

True to his belief that all change begins first in one’s own heart and immediate environments, he has implemented the style of conversational leadership in his own work environment.  “Our company is based on friendship and in many ways authentic relationships is our business model,” he describes. “The three of us decided from the beginning that if our core competency was to support others in developing meaningful relationships, then we needed to make this one of our core practices, as well. … We intentionally pierce the artificial veil between who we are as co-workers and who we are as private people. …[W]hen you meet deliberately over time, using circle practice, the end result is wise decisions and loving the people you work with. That mythical line of our business persona and who we really are fades away. Here, we are real people, caring for each other and doing good work.”

Prior to his leadership of the Columbus Medical Association and related entities, he served for more than a dozen years as President of the Franklin County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, and before that for five years as the CEO of Southeast, Inc., a mental health services provider. Phil co-founded the Physicians Leadership Academy (a mindfulness based leadership initiative for physicians at the Columbus Medical Association). He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Kenyon College, a Master’s degree in Counseling and Guidance from Fairfield University, and a Ph.D. in Counseling and Guidance from The Ohio State University. He lives with his wife Laura and is a proud father, step-father and grandfather. 

Join us in conversation with this inspiring and transformational leader!


Five Questions for Phil

What Makes You Come Alive?
This is an easy question for me. What makes me come alive is my 6 year old Granddaughter. Pure unadulterated unconditional love. I don't think I've ever laughed this hard and felt more joy than when I'm playing with her. I've been very lucky to have many reasons or experirncing great joy but my experience with her takes it to a whole new level.

Your Greatest Inspiration?
There really have been two. One was when I was diagnosed with cancer on the day I got my PhD at the age of 32 and the other when the organization I was heading up lost an election that would have given us 40 million dollars of funding.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
When a young couple that I was very close to asked me to be the officiant/celebrant for their marriage.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?
To travel to the Middle East. I've traveled many places but that is one place I still long to go to.

One-line Message for the World?
Falling in love with as many people as you can in your lifetime is a worthy goal and really not that hard.


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