Vision and leadership: keeping the long view

In her lat­est post at http://​robin​msf​.blogspot​.com/​2​0​1​2​/​0​2​/​v​i​s​i​o​n​.​h​tml, +Robin Mohr asks for “sto­ries of Quaker lead­ers and committees/organizations that have func­tioned well together.”

It was in col­lege that I first heard Max Weber’s idea that bureau­cra­cies grow to even­tu­ally see their own main­te­nance as their prime objec­tive (Wikipedia has a sec­tion on Weber­ian bureau­cracy http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​B​u​r​e​a​u​c​r​a​c​y​#​W​e​b​e​r​i​a​n​_​b​u​r​e​a​u​c​r​acy). At the time I assumed we were talk­ing about gov­ern­ments but it didn’t take long in the non­profit world to see the phe­nom­e­non alive there as well. Resources go to the pro­grams that can attract the biggest donor atten­tion. Com­mit­tee dis­cern­ment gets short-circuited. Inter­nal bench­marks become the mea­sure even if the are dis­con­nected from actual effect or mis­sion. If a need arises from out­side of the bound­aries of the inter­nal struc­tures, it is ignores: there’s lit­tle incen­tive to address it.

The only real solu­tion is to keep remem­ber­ing why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s the prac­tice of self-reflection, it’s the exer­cise of ask­ing what we might be called to. Per­haps this is a leader’s real job description.

I’ve been think­ing again lately of the way the Soci­ety of Friends responded to the Tom Fox kid­nap­ping, a story I recounted in “Why Would a Quaker Do a Crazy Thing Like That”(http://​www​.quak​er​ran​ter​.org/​2​0​0​6​/​0​6​/​w​h​y​_​w​o​u​l​d​_​a​_​q​u​a​k​e​r​_​d​o​_​a​_​c​r​a​zy/). I think the under­whelm­ing response was mostly a fail­ure of imag­i­na­tion. Too many of the orga­ni­za­tions in ques­tion had set­tled them­selves into narrowly-defined mis­sion silos of their own mak­ing. They didn’t know what to make of the sit­u­a­tion. I’d like to hope that a Rufus Jones or Howard Brin­ton would have cut through the slack, and I am encour­aged at some recent con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had with some emerg­ing lead­ers, but as a stu­dent of his­tory I know these are eter­nal prob­lems that are always ready to return.

My the­ory of media and social change is that 90% of the time we’re talk­ing amongst our­selves, invit­ing peo­ple in to the con­ver­sa­tion and build­ing an infra­struc­ture of com­mu­nity. It’s one-on-one work, slow, peo­ple inten­sive (but then that’s what makes it enjoy­able, right?). The fruits of this labor become vis­i­ble with unex­pected opportunities–those times when we’re called on by a larger pub­lic to explain our­selves or describe the world as we see it. If we’ve been doing our back­ground work–planting the seeds that is the peo­ple of our community–then we will be ready to step up to the chal­lenge. If we’re not, oppor­tu­nity slips away.

The his­tory of Friends–maybe the his­tory of the church universal–is one of missed oppor­tu­ni­ties; the mir­a­cle of faith is that some­times we con­nect with one another in the love that is God and lay some more bricks and mor­tar for God’s king­dom on Earth.

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What Canst Thou Say?: Vision
With­out vision, the peo­ple per­ish. Mostly because they get eaten by tigers they didn’t see com­ing. Isn’t that a joke from Calvin & Hobbes? I’ve been think­ing a lot about vision lately.…