Do you have “Committee Alphabet Soup?”

one brainI often use General Motors as an example of the top-down model of organization and leadership that is the opposite of what our congregations need to be nimble and vital (and I might add, attractive to Gen-Xers and Millennials). Today’s story from Bloomberg “GM Recalls Stalled in 10 Years of Committee Alphabet Soup” exemplifies how–even though GM has rallied since the bailout back in 2009–GM still has a culture that stifles communication and slows response time.

Inherent in the GM culture is the foundational notion that the brains are in the boardroom, and the rest of the organization’s role is to receive commands and send back reports.

Brian Johnson, an auto analyst for Barclay’s states some of the results of this model:  “The committee culture of the old GM was rooted in organizational paralysis and characterized by a lack of accountability.”  “I’m amazed that even the government bureaucrats couldn’t understand GM’s plodding processes.”

Tom Stallkamp, a former president of Chrysler, adds that top executives often don’t hear about internal recall investigations, especially since there is inherent tension between engineers and safety/quality folks as they chase reports back and forth.   Speaking as an executive he says: “If you tried to react to every single issue coming in, or every dozen issues spread over a dozen cars, you’d go crazy.”

My short hand for this style of organization is “one brain, many hands.”  It’s also been described as a “spider” organization in the book The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman et al.

“Spider” organizations are very structured and invest most of the power and authority in the “brain” or top leadership. Congregations organized on this model have:

  • lots of committees with no one willing to staff them
  • committees that have people willing to staff them, but there is no energy at the meetings
  • a requirement for committees to send reports to the board, but they seldom do
  • committees that have had the same chair for over 5 years
  • turf wars
  • silos between ministries
  • annual reports from committees that show little difference from year to year
  • understanding of the mission is held only by a few people in leadership

“Starfish” organizations look to share power and authority (with accountability) throughout the organization. Congregations organized on this model have:

  • A clear sense of mission throughout all of the leadership, including those on committees and task forces
  • Attention to alignment with the mission as well as accountability structures
  • leaders who reinforce that sense of mission through annual goals based on strategic planning
  • committees where some people plan, and task forces where other people can just “do” without showing up to a committee meeting
  • a permission-giving culture that encourages and supports new ministries that are in alignment with the mission
  • good communication between leaders of various ministries that don’t need to go through the board

Another handy checklist for your congregation might be this list of qualities of growing and stalled congregations developed by http://waytolead.files.wordpress.com/

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant, CERG

Duck, Duck, Goose!

Ducks and Geese on Manhasset Bay in Winter
Ducks and Geese on Manhasset Bay in Winter

Last week, I was walking along a Long Island bay during a snow storm.  The day before, it had been a balmy 50°, but that day I found myself trudging to the grocery store through a several inches of snow.  As I looked toward the bay, I saw a group of waterfowl through the relentless snowflakes.   What first caught my eye were the ducks, who found the open water and were swimming — as if it were a chilly fall day.  Then I noticed the geese, with their heads wound sideways and buried beneath a sheltering wing.

“Ha!”  I thought.  “Look at those ducks, going  with the flow!  Look at those geese, resisting the new meteorological order. What an instructive metaphor for our congregations!”

But then I noticed that there were some geese swimming in the open water.  And then I saw there were some ducks hiding their heads beneath their wings.  My generalizations about my observations were suddenly inaccurate.

We humans are driven to make sense of the universe, but as we make meaning, we are tempted to make generalizations.  Those generalizations then feed into our perceptions and interfere with our objectivity as we are presented with new information that might not fit our working framework.  Luckily, with the ducks and geese, my framework was freshly formed and easily corrected.  But in other parts of my life my existing frameworks can prevent me from taking in new information.  This happens most often after someone has made a first impression on me.  If that impression was positive (someone was generous or helpful) I tend to use that characteristic to color later actions, even if the person starts exhibiting the opposite behaviors.

One way of describing this phenomenon is the Ladder of Inference (developed by Harvard’s Chris Argyris).

Much of the work my colleagues and I are doing around multiculturalism, intercultural sensitivity, generational theory and systems thinking is encouraging all of us to question the assumptions upon which we base our (interpretations of) our perceptions.

One of our core theological foundations is that truth is always subject to examination and to reinterpretation or even revision.  As James Luther Adams said in The Five Smooth Stones of Liberalism:

Religious Liberalism depends first on the principle that “revelation is continuous.” Meaning has not been fully captured.  Nothing is complete, and thus nothing is exempt from criticism. … At best, our symbols of communication are only referents and do not capsule reality.  … They point always beyond themselves.

I would argue that–as covenantal religious liberals–how we provide critique is as important as the critique itself.  I resonate with the kinds of discussions where people are engaging together to create a shared meaning or understanding, especially when no one of us can really claim to have the “right” answer.

I really don’t care for the kind of righteous verbal sniping, sparring or nit-picking that sometimes creeps into our congregations.  It especially annoys me whenever I see someone get verbally attacked after unknowingly using a word or phrase that has an arcane or minimal association with oppression.  There are better ways of helping us to “interrupt” our “ladders of inference.”

I have appreciated the model of the accountability group that has recently been serving at our General Assemblies.  They share stories of where and how we have acted on incorrect assumptions that have been hurtful to others of us, not as a rebuke, but as a lens to help each of us to “interrupt” our reflexive loops on our own ladders on inference.

I believe that part of our covenant with one another is to help to interrupt each other’s reflexive loops, with humility and love.

 

 

 

 

Think “Strategic,” Not “Long-Range”

There is a quote that guides me in my work:       “We create the path by walking.”

How many of us knew exactly who or what we wanted to be when we “grew up?” Instead, many of us made choices that led us in a certain

Cantwell Cliffs, Hocking Hills, OH
Cantwell Cliffs, Hocking Hills, OH

direction.  As we started down a particular path, our choices helped us to discern where our path might lead us next, and so on.  We may have encountered an unexpected obstacle….or a surprising opportunity that sent us in a different direction.  The economy might have changed to eliminate a career choice or technology may have shifted to create a new one.

For decades churches (following the example of the business world) used a “long range planning” method of planning for the future.  This method involved used current trends, extrapolating them to forecast future growth.  This method would enable congregations to plan for building expansions and additional staff.  This was a great model for the 1950′s and 1960′s when growth was relatively stable.  But times have changed.   And most folks in congregational leadership know that the religious landscape has really changed.  In response, many organizations started thinking about planning for the future using an ongoing strategy and using that strategy to make decisions.  One major result was that — in a “strategic plan” — adding staff or improving/enlarging the church campus became means (instead of ends) of following the visionary goals set forth in a strategy:

“We want to transform our members through deep faith development.  Let’s hire a full time professional religious educator.”

“We want to be able to provide emergency shelter for our community’s homeless population.  Let’s be sure to include showers and a commercial kitchen as part of our new fellowship space.”

When your congregation’s leadership decides to be intentional about strategic growth, they can’t possibly predict what the congregation will look like in 5 or 10 years.  However, your leaders can set the direction and help to foster a system of discernment that will guide decision-making and the allocation of resources.   (Of course, in order to do this, the membership as a whole must first develop a shared understanding of your core values and a shared vision of what you aspire the congregation to become.)

You can’t predict all of the possibilities that you’ll have in your future. But you can articulate and create clarity around your shared values so that you will be ready when you encounter those opportunities which resonate with the heartstrings of your congregation.

 -Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Consultant for Leadership Development

 

Do You Have Zombie Programs?

The new year offers a new opportunity to take stock of how your congregation is serving its mission.

By Matt Erasmus http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattzn/7568810892/

 

Invite your leadership team to take stock of your current program offerings.

  • Is the program bringing in new life in the form of new participants?
  • Is the program a brain-drain or money pit, or is it using resources in proportion to its impact?
  • Does the program have a connection to Unitarian Universalist core values, ethics or theology?
  • Is the program encouraging people to spiritual growth?
  • Does it set yearly goals and stretch goals, then work to meet them?

After all, we are the “living tradition,” not the “living dead” tradition.  ;-)

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke CERG Leadership Development Consultant

 

 

Blessings in the New Year

cordiceJohn W.V. Cordice, M.D. died recently, four days after Christmas to be precise.  A native of Durham, North Carolina, he earned his medical degree at New York University in 1942.  Formally an attending surgeon and chief of thoracic surgery at Harlem Hospital Center, he practiced medicine in New York for 40 years. 

On September 20, 1958, Dr. Cordice was off duty when a young but already influential minister and civil rights leader by the name of Martin Luther King was brought into the Harlem Hospital with a 7 inch steel blade stuck in his chest, millimeters from his aorta.  Dr. King had been signing books in Harlem when a woman stabbed him with a letter opener.  So close to death was Dr. King that if he had sneezed before surgeons had a chance to remove the object, he would have died.  Rushing to the hospital, Dr. Cordice and an associate, Dr. Emil Naclerio performed the operation to save Dr. King’s life.  14 days later, Dr. King was discharged from Harlem Medical Center and resumed a career and a passion that would change the lives of millions of people.

 As leaders in our Unitarian Universalist faith, we never know what acts we may perform that will change the course of the lives of others.  As ministers, staff and lay leaders, each time we deliver a sermon or coordinate a fund drive or attend a community rally, we change history.  Each time we sit down to a Board meeting or teach a religious education class, or lend an ear and a heart to someone who is hurting, we save lives.

As we enter a new year of service together, we must never underestimate the importance of what we do nor overestimate the blessings we receive in having the opportunity to do it.

Happy New Year

 -Mark Bernstein, CERG Consultant

 

Adaptive Measures

sustained growthYour congregation is committed to growth and understands that growth in numbers results from other kinds of growth. You also know it is important to set goals and measure how well you are doing.  But you are wise enough to know that it is impossible to link attendance numbers to any one “cause” from your growth initiatives.  What should you measure?

When facing adaptive challenges, it can often be counterproductive to use old measurements.

Instead, brainstorm the kinds of behaviors you want people to have to help you meet your yearly ministry goals:

  • How many first-time visitors received hand-written notes?
  • How many people talked to each visitor at coffee hour?
  • What percentage of adult members participate in small group ministry?
  • What percentage of your youth serve on ministry teams?
  • What percentage of your board members are under 40?
  • How many youth and adults participate in events/initiatives organized by your social action team?
  • What is the ratio of pastoral visits by the minister(s) to those by your lay pastoral visitors?

The only way to help change the culture in our congregations is to figure out how to help the members develop new behaviors that will lead to that culture change.

 -Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

Opening Our Presents

opening presentsAs we enter this holiday season, the thoughts of many of us turn to gift giving and receiving. Certainly, the assault by advertisers on our senses, through print, TV and radio ads, offers their suggestions for what we should give or receive. The true gifts, though, are already there before us. As Unitarian Universalists, we should celebrate this season by remembering and acknowledging the gifts that others have given to us and the gifts that we give to each other. Nowhere is this more eloquently expressed than in the hymn We Sing Now Together, words by Edwin T. Buehrer.

We sing now together our song of thanksgiving, rejoicing in goods which the ages have wrought, for Life that enfolds us and helps and heals and holds us, and leads beyond the goals which our forebears once sought.

We receive the gift of knowledge and wisdom and foresight that our Unitarian Universalist predecessors left us so that we can create a faith that goes beyond even their wildest dreams.

We sing to of the freedoms which martyrs and heroes have won by their labor, their sorrow, their pain; the oppressed befriending, our ampler hopes defending, their death becomes a triumph, they died not in vain.

We receive the gift of inspiration from those who gave their lives to defend our faith and the principles for which we stand. People like Francis David, Michael Servetus, and James Reeb, who paid the ultimate price for their beliefs.

We sing of the prophets, the teachers, the dreamers, designers, creators, and workers, and seers; our own lives expanding, our gratitude commanding, their deeds have made immortal their days and their years.

We receive the gift of innovation and risk-taking from those Unitarian Universalist ministers and leaders who moved our faith forward through collaboration, partnerships, and teamwork. People like Frederick May Eliot, A. Powell Davies, and Homer Jack, who worked to bring people and groups together to strengthen Unitarian Universalism and its influence in the wider world.

We sing of community now in the making in every far continent, region and land, with those of all races, all times and names and places, we pledge ourselves in covenant firmly to stand.

We receive the gift of community within and across our Unitarian Universalist congregations, grounded by the promises we make to each other and lifted by the love and respect we have for each other.

Empowered and inspired by those who went before us, we move forward together as a great and powerful faith to fulfill their dreams, our dreams, and the dreams of those who will follow us. These are the gifts we give and receive this holiday season.

-Mark Bernstein, CERG Growth Development Consultant

The Gift of Being Called

It was mid-afternoon and my sixth grade classmates and I were in the middle of a lesson.  Suddenly, the deep voice of the principal boomed over the loudspeaker.  “Mr. Doyle, I need your help.  Mrs. Jones will be out the rest of the day and I need someone to be in the office to answer phones and greet visitors.” He went on, “I need someone confident and responsible.  Someone like …” and then he said my name!

I didn’t really see myself as a leader.  I didn’t think the principal even knew who I was.  What did he see in me that I didn’t see in myself?  I was just a kid, after all.phone

Of course, my teacher excused me from class and I walked down the glazed brick hallway to the office.  I timidly opened the door to find the principal sitting at the secretary’s desk. “Come in! Come in!  Thank you for helping us out!” he said warmly.  He proceeded to show me how the phones worked and how to use a pad with carbon paper to take messages.  Once he was sure I knew what to do he retreated back into his office and I was left alone with the seemingly immense responsibility of the office.

There have been other times in my life when someone reached into me and revealed something that I hadn’t seen in myself.  They remind me that our blind spots don’t just keep us from recognizing our faults but can also be keeping us from seeing our gifts.  The best leaders look for gifts in others, and then help them to develop those gifts.  They encourage others into leadership by providing confidence-building experiences and meaningful service.

Other than a couple of phone calls, that afternoon in the office was itself uneventful.  But the experience of having someone with so much power and authority not only to see potential in me, but spend unhurried time to help me realize that potential, was a life-changing gift.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

In It for the Long Haul

Bless the ImperfectOn this Thanksgiving Day, I wish to extend my own gratitude to all of those committed members who bless their congregations with their steadfast support.  As you read this, many of them are probably in the church basement, washing up after the community Thanksgiving dinner for those who don’t have a family dinner to attend.

I recently read a wonderful description of such members in Skinner House’s new meditation manual for congregational leaders, Bless the Imperfect.  I hope you see yourself here, and know that you, too, are a blessing.

 

Long-Haul People

 

by Rudy Nemser

 

You find them in churches
when you’re lucky;
other places too, though I mostly
only know ecclesiastical varieties.

Long haul people
upon whose shoulders
(and pocketbooks and casseroles
and daylight/nighttime hours)
a church is built and maintained
after the brass is tarnished and
cushions need re-stitching.

They pay their pledges full and on time
even when the music’s modern;
support each canvass though the sermons aren’t always short;
mow lawns and come to suppers;
teach Sunday School when
there’s no one else and they’ll miss the service.

Asked what they think of the minister,
or plans for the kitchen renovation,
or the choral anthem, or Christmas pageant,
or color of the bathroom paint,
they’ll reply: individuals and fashions
arrive and pass.
The church—their church—will be here, steady and hale.|
For a long, long time.
It will.
For long haul people bless a church
with a very special blessing.

 

From Bless the Imperfect: Meditations for Congregational Leaders, Kathleen Montgomery, Editor.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

 

May We Give Thanks…

This week, in honor of the holiday of Thanksgiving, I wish to express my gratitude for our liberal religious communities. We who persist in creating and maintaining authentic communities of liberal faith do so in a culture that is facing increased anxiety, fragmentation, isolation, disconnection and hyper-individualism.

friendsIn American culture, most of us have only 2 close friends.  Yet, I see how small group ministry and other aspects of congregational life enable those in our congregations to have the possibility for many more close friends than the national average.

I’ve noticed that being intentional about fostering community has been a topic of interest among many Unitarian Universalists in the past decade (if not longer).  An unofficial “common read” book among this group as been Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging.  (This book helped to inspire Mark Bernstein’s workshop at the 2013 General Assembly, Beyond Contentment: Motivating Members to Do More.)  One of my big “a ha” moments in reading the book is that a large number of people in a community who experience individual transformation does not necessarily lead to the transformation of the community itself. The practices that lead to community transformation are practices of the community as a whole. And Peter Block reminds us that dialogue is the best community-builder.

As Unitarian Universalist, we know this.  In the May 2005 Commission on Appraisal report Engaging Our Theological Diversity, 82% of lay folk and 91% of ministers responded that: “We deepen our wisdom in community when we share our stories and engage in dialogue across our differences” was “Highly Important.” (page 68)  It is in our practices of deep listening and the creative interchange of rich dialogue that we can offer a saving message to the world in the form of being communities of these practices.

Please let me share a glimpse into my own faith community where we practice living our faith authentically:

http://youtu.be/4M-bBKB_Gzo

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant