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.

Embed­ded Link

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.… 

  • Hi Mar­tin! I like the new design.

    I still can’t tell if you liked my post, were ambiva­lent or worse about it. 

    I think you’re right that we have to keep ask­ing what are we here for. We, as indi­vid­u­als or orga­ni­za­tions, can’t get caught up in all the 1,000 things that peo­ple think we ought to do. Heck, I can think of 20 things I’d like FWCC to be involved in right now all by myself, but I also know we can only do about three at a time. How do we choose? How do we bal­ance hon­or­ing the com­mit­ments that the orga­ni­za­tion has made and respond­ing to the call of the Holy Spir­it in the moment, even if we may be mis­tak­en in our dis­cern­ment in either direction? 

    I’ve been writ­ing about this quandary for years : In 2011 http://​robin​msf​.blogspot​.com/​2​0​1​1​/​0​8​/​m​a​k​i​n​g​-​c​h​o​i​c​e​s​.​h​tml

    In 2006: http://​robin​msf​.blogspot​.com/​2​0​0​6​/​0​9​/​m​y​-​c​a​n​d​l​e​-​b​u​r​n​s​-​a​t​-​b​o​t​h​-​e​n​d​s​.​h​tml 

    Maybe it’s just me that is not giv­en to sin­gle­ness of eye, of focus. The good side of that is breadth of vision. The shadow/sin is frit­ter­ing away time and oth­er resources. 

    How can we help each oth­er in the dis­cern­ment process?

    • Hi Robin: of course I like your post :). I’m quite con­fi­dent you’ll be one to remem­ber the rea­son you’re doing this work. The sort of move into the more tau­to­log­i­cal bureau­crat­ic think­ing (“we serve our­selves so we can serve our­selves”) seems to hap­pen at a larg­er staff/budget thresh­old than FWCC’s cur­rent status. 

  • This real­ly speaks to me. I like your media and social change mod­el. I think that is how I under­stand church works — 90% of the time we are prac­tic­ing, we make attempts to live God’s way, we soak our­selves in God’s grace and even­tu­al­ly build up some path­ways in our brains. So then when we meet an oppor­tu­ni­ty, once in a while we rec­og­nize it and respond from our prac­ticed under­stand­ing of open­ing into God’s grace. We might intend to do that most of the time, but we can’t do it with­out practicing. 

    “Why are we doing this?” is a great core con­ver­sa­tion for church social time, and for me it points straight to the well of good water, God’s grace. I think it’s hard to make good deci­sions in com­mit­tee meet­ings if we haven’t prac­ticed ask­ing “Why … ?” togeth­er out­side that con­text. If we have been drink­ing deeply togeth­er at the well of liv­ing water that Jesus shows us — I think that’s what allows us to find the heav­en­ly dimen­sion of God’s pos­si­bil­i­ties emerg­ing amongst us. Know­ing one anoth­er in the things which are eter­nal (from Britain YM’s Advices & Queries #18). Per­haps we can only make deci­sions as deep as our col­lec­tive immer­sion in God’s presence.

  • Chris­tine Greenland

    Yes­ter­day, I  clerked a small quar­ter­ly meet­ing work­ing group — I’m co-clerk, since it  isn’t my quar­ter… and the oth­er co-clerk is, which works well. We keep ask­ing the ques­tions and see­ing the poten­tials … but when it comes down to being faith­ful (a term I use instead of “account­able”) that needs con­sis­tent test­ing. It is impor­tant to cen­ter in wor­ship, no mat­ter what we are doing. 

    I had the expe­ri­ence of being chair of a group of biol­o­gists, and found that, even then, I con­duct­ed busi­ness in the same way… one of seek­ing guid­ance from oth­er mem­bers of the group — even though the group of which we were a small part used Robert’s rules of order. I felt our group was too small to make that approach work­able… Occa­sion­al­ly, I for­got I wasn’t among Friends until anoth­er mem­ber of the group (a Unit­ed Church grad­u­ate of Swarth­more Col­lege) remind­ed me… Church of the Brethren folks just grinned and allowed as how they pre­ferred the approach; we were, after all, both friends and biol­o­gists.  For most of us, the work had both a sci­en­tif­ic and a spir­i­tu­al basis.