Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A weird beginning

Second in a series of posts about General Assembly and the June UUA Board meeting

In response to the question "who sets the vision?", Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs replied during the UU University Policy Governance track (and I paraphrase) "The Board sets the vision. But don't forget that the minister has the pulpit."

UUA President Bill Sinkford had "the pulpit" as he gave his final report on Wednesday, and included a vision statement about the shift from "anti-racism" to "multi-culturalism". It was an important message from the first African American UUA president. One of my first surprises on the UUA Board was that our AR/AO/MC (anti-racist/anti-oppression/multi-cultural) efforts were so fixated on Black and White.

There was good reason for that. Watching the DVD "Wilderness Journey" helped me understand the intense pain that so many felt over the controversies of the late 60s and early 70s in Unitarian Universalism -- controversy that drove Bill Sinkford away from Unitarian Universalism at that time. [These events are also detailed in the new book "The Arc of the Universe is Long" which I predict will become THE reference for anti-racist UU history.]

So why would a vision statement about multi-culturalism irritate any of my fellow board members? The eloquent vision statement made no reference to any of the "ends" formulated six months before that had already made the same shift: the UUA "ends" refer to being "intentionally...multi-cultural" and "embracing and struggling with issues of oppression and privilege", but "racism" and its derivatives are nowhere to be found. This shift was made with the participation of all board members, including the current president and both candidates, but was never acknowledged in the vision statement set forth in the plenary report.

Why does that matter? It matters if you believe that collaboration is essential to effective governance with an elected president and board. It matters if you perceive past UUA Boards to have had relatively little influence with an agenda set and dominated by the President. It matters if the action in question (presenting the vision statement) is one in a long string (over decades) of unilateral action on the part of the UUA President. It matters if some of those actions are perceived to undermine other UUA-related institutions by going around them.

It matters if you are trying to model behavior for the rest of the Association about what collaboration looks like.

Let me be clear here that one of the reasons that I agreed to run for the Board was Bill Sinkford. He did not disappoint. My respect for him continued to grow over the two years I had the privilege of serving with him. I doubt he perceived any of his actions as "going around" anyone, as within the culture of what it has been to be a UUA president he was doing what the UUA President did.

Hence the "weird beginning": a statement read by one of the Board members very near to the beginning of the first meeting with the new President that essentially said the Board wanted more collaboration. It came across to at least some of us (including me) as a scolding for a President who had been on the job for 12 hours. Add to that the "missing moderator" from Saturday night and conspiracy theorists could have a heyday about Board vs. President.

Though it wasn't initially clear, the statement was a personal one with input from just a few Board members. Though Board members agreed this was not exactly how we needed to start as a new Board, I appreciate us naming this "elephant", albeit awkwardly, so that we can address it in the future.

The President does have the "pulpit" and I expect him to use it. I also expect him to publicly acknowledge the partnership he has entered, at least until we all reach the comfort level of a Lao Tzu.

Next post: the life of the congregation president

OK at the Deer Valley Corral

First in a series of posts about the June General Assembly and UUA Board meeting

Anyone looking for a showdown at the first UUA Board meeting at the Marriott Deer Valley Room between the new UUA president and the moderator who endorsed his opponent would have been sorely disappointed. Not only did Gini welcome Peter with open arms (literally) but I watched the two play off each other's senses of humor throughout the meeting. It was genuine, appreciative - and exactly what I would expect from both.

I called Gini in early May to tell her I was endorsing Peter shortly after I called Peter to tell him the same thing. She did what Gini does -- listened attentively, understood my reasoning, and thanked me for letting her know. She made no attempt to change my mind or disagree with me, and before we hung up said that though she had endorsed Laurel, she would be fine if Peter was elected.

She is.

So it is particularly unfortunate that not showing up at the post-election celebration at 10 pm on Saturday evening has been interpreted by some as sour grapes. Gini was not the only Board member absent, and who came was not a function of who they endorsed.

Because of the large number of meetings and workshops Board members are expected to attend, we typically work together to identify which events need to be covered. For whatever reason, the election celebration was listed on the compiled Board schedule as 8:00 to 8:30, even though the GA Program listed it at 10:00 pm, so a number of Board members did not even realize there was a celebration until the next day.

Gini typically spends Saturday evening preparing for a long Sunday that includes her Moderator's report -- and a plenary that needs a lot of patience, good humor, and respect for those who come forward to present end-of-session responsive resolutions. This year she also prepared the eloquent charge to the congregation she gave for installation of the new president. So she was in her room when GA Planning Committee Chair Beth McGregor called out her name. Those of us there know Gini is often called to counsel, advise, or otherwise provide her time, and it never occurred to me that her absence would be any kind of statement. Once she realized what happened, she apologized the next day to the assembled delegates.

Why would we think otherwise? Are we so starved for drama that we make it up? I loved the example set personally by both Peter and Laurel Hallman in terms of their campaigns and respect for each other. I could have easily worked with Laurel as president. Not only do I highly respect her, but learned years ago the power of setting aside personal preferences for the mission of the organization I was part of as long as I could remain true to my values.

I suspect the term "gunfight" really does not resonate with many UUs, with good reason. There are so many better ways to use our time and energy -- especially when this "gunfight" never existed.

Next post: the "weird beginning"

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hiring and firing the President

Policy Governance, some say, can't work in an organization that elects its CEO - unless the Board has the power to hire and fire the executive, the logic goes, there isn't a strong enough incentive for the two to work together.

Huh? First of all, the Board DOES have the power to fire the President. Per the UUA By-Laws:

Section 8.5. Removal of Officers.

Elected Officers. An elected officer may be removed by a three-fourths vote of the entire Board of Trustees at a meeting at which not less than three-fourths of the entire Board is present if in the opinion of the Board such officer is incapacitated or unable to carry out the duties of the office. The President may also be removed by such a vote of the Board if it determines that such removal is in the best interests of the Association.

(thanks to my fellow Board member Jackie Shanti for pointing this out)

The Board also has final authority on the budget (per most state and federal laws) so could choose to not fund an out of control president.

The thought that we would ever get to that point is inconceivable to me. We are watching a rigorous election process with two highly qualified candidates who have both spent the last year at all the Board meetings, providing input into the Policy Governance deliberations. Moreover, they start with UU values, which is where Policy Governance starts. For those of you not familiar with the process of creating "ends", the statements about what difference we want to make for whom, and that are given to the President to interpret and make happen, you start with your values and it is those values that are translated into policies.

My experience in 30 years of hiring and firing managers is that a difference in values is often what leads to trouble, especially in more senior positions. If I am part of a Board that believes in treating employees with respect and the CEO rides roughshod over them, I am not going to be happy - or I object to the use of overseas suppliers with sweatshops and the CEO insists this is the only way we can reduce our costs and compete, there will be a problem (these are both real examples, by the way).

Another problem Boards often face is a CEO (often the founder) who has outlived his or his effectiveness as the organization changes under them. Our term limits deal with that.

Underneath all of this concern about hiring versus electing is what I consider a fairly unhealthy view of how to use power. Totally aside from Policy Governance, the Board (or manager, for that matter) that has to depend on obsolete notions of "command and control" is operating in the last century. "Facilitative leadership" or similar concepts replaced it for most corporations and other professional organizations decades ago, but my experience is that far too many UUs still assume the old model.