Nov 18 2008

Victories of the Heart: Bill Martin Resignation Letter 2008

(Note: I am re-publishing this letter after many years. I want to state the Victories organization has made positive strides in making changes I am critical of in this resignation letter. I’m keeping it active as my right to state my opinion and explain some of the causes for my decision to resign. I have a First Amendment right to write and speak freely in this country and I think studying history is an important way to not recreate past mistakes. (For me also, it’s a way to stand up and protect myself. I don’t like being afraid and asserting myself helps me feel safer in the world.) I write with some discernment about what to reveal and not reveal. I am cautious to not offend anyone for my stated opinions. I have no malicious intent to harm anyone, though I expect anyone from back then who reads this may feel upset. I often heard the concept of “everbody has their own truth” and not one truth rules over others. I never agreed with this notion. Anyone studying ethics and clinical practice understands there may be different views, but their are ethical standards to follow rigorously. So, if I have offended anyone with this writing or any writing, feel free to let me know or add  your own comments.
From 2008:
As I have been asked many questions about why I resigned my leadership role in the Victories of the Heart program, I am publishing my June 2008 resignation letter here for anyone interested.
I am writing to express my thanks to Kurt and the VOH board to allow me to share some parting ideas about the work that each of us believes is relevant and important for men, their families and their relationships.

My resignation comes at a time of great personal upheaval and a realization that I have many other challenges to face that are more important to my family and me than those facing VOH.

Realistically, the leadership of Kurt and the professionalism brought by other VOH Board members has placed VOH strategically in a potential place for growth and development. I applaud Kurt for his leadership and having worked with him so close for many years, I know his heart and mind are in the right place. I am but one of the VOH men who have benefited from his generosity and support. He will go straight to heaven.

I look back on my decisions to re-engage in VOH after about 10 years of disengagement as an opportunity to help enact some of the changes that I felt were needed to make the programs grow.

I am including the copy of my comments from the strategic planning process in 2004 as further evidence of my thinking and vision for VOH at that time.

My vision today has not changed. It includes the following:

1. Creation of a strong and informed Board of Directors
2. Organization acting as a not-for-profit
3. Creation of a new leadership model focused on training of leaders
4. Development of training in facilitation of psychodrama for all volunteers
5. Creation of a strong after weekend support group program
6. Introduction of evaluation for programs

In review of this vision, I can see that many of the parts of it have been successfully developed. Aspects related to the board were already in place when I re-engaged in the organization thanks to Kurt and others.

However, looking at the remaining aspects of my vision, I must say that I am very disappointed in the lack of progress during the last four years. Was my time wasted? Probably not, but I confess, I feel it was mostly wasted. I would not re-engage had I to do it over again.
Shortly after re-engaging, I went to work on the workbook for the Breakthrough Weekend support group with others. It was widely known that this aspect of the VOH program needed much improvement.

While a lot of public statements are made about how wonderful the groups are, there has been no research on whether this is true or not. We have anecdotal statements from men who are in or have been in groups that they are great experiences. However, we are not sure how many groups are actually out there in the community and what are the mechanisms that help them work.

Four years later, I judge that the VOH support group program is woefully inadequate. I don’t think anyone can really say how many groups are functioning and if so, what value they hold for their members.

This is the singlemost failure for which the leaders and the entire VOH organization should be held accountable.

What is the best way to encourage men to go to weekends?

1. Tell them honestly what to expect (rather than secrets).
2. Help them understand the elements of each program.
3. Provide the research that supports each program.
4. Allow access to the results of all the evaluations that are completed at the end of programs.
5. Stop everything else and develop a more competent approach to the support groups after each program, including the Wisdom Years, Breakthrough Weekend and the Shadow Weekend.

If Kurt had not provided the leadership to hire a group director, this concept would still be languishing in a file somewhere. Still, Kurt cannot do it all.

Regarding a new leadership model, I have long stated that the dyadic leadership team model has more weaknesses than strengths. I have seen and experienced how it encourages competition, hostility, and opposition to change among leaders. I have been personally victimized by this negative sub-grouping. I know others have been victimized too.

Due to the limiting structure of the dyadic leader teams, leaders mostly talk only to themselves and probably reinforce each other’s negative beliefs about the other leader teams.

One of the most simple, though irritating examples of this back-handed competition is the “pressured recruiting” of Breakthrough leaders who have not participated in the Wisdom Years. I had been one of them and was subject to frequent pressure to attend the Wisdom Years, as if my life was not yet complete until I experienced this weekend.

Ironically, I was the one (of this resistant group) to attend and have been the target of other pressure and mistreatment as a result of my evaluation of the experience.

To me, the limitations of the dyadic leader model has always bred hostility and damaged the potential for collaborative relationships. I am an example of this.

I worked on the committee led by Paul Kachoris to develop a structured leadership development program and we debated the pros and cons of the dyadic leadership team.

I thought we all agreed that we needed to change the model from a dyadic team to a three or four person leader team. The details were not worked out, but there seemed to be an agreement the old model did not work, so we needed to try a new model.

When it came to a decision-making moment during our (8 person) leadership team meeting, we reported our decision to experiment with a new model.

Another senior leader simply said he disagreed and that was the end of it. I looked around the room and everyone was silent. I look back at this moment as an example of the way things really work.

I should have resigned then.

What happened to the many hours of study and discussion the leadership development team devoted to this important issue? Nothing.
One person who was not at any of the meetings vetoed the idea and I suppose the other leaders were relieved not to have to give up their privileged status as “leaders for life.”
There is still confusion about how to create new leadership teams. How can this be possible given the positive success of other business and social service organizations in the creation of functional, successful leader teams usually consisting of 3-5 members?

What would happen if all athletic teams were made up of dyadic teams, instead of a cohesive group of players who all pitched in for the success of the team? There are no dyadic athletic teams for a reason. They could not succeed and they would not be fun. VOH’s dyadic leader teams can be successful in their own realm, but do little for building the organization. I would say they do more to hinder organizational development because of the limited vision and self-survival needs of those leader teams breed competition, rather than collaboration.
The psychodrama model that Kurt Schultz and I began to develop looked much more like an athletic team, than a dyadic leader model. We began to write, name and record psychodrama exercises and techniques in a training document to be used by the VOH organization. We developed basic steps in the process that volunteer men who are not therapists could learn the method.

We conducted two trainings per year which were very successful and highly evaluated by participants. It was the first time any training had been successful in de-mystifying the complicated process of leading psychodrama.

I wrote a professional article which was recently published. Here is the note from my Editor, Kate Sori, for the Therapist Notebook III where my article on psychodrama and body-centered therapy techniques will be published:

“Bill, your chapter on psychodrama and other body-centered therapy techniques was such a pleasure to read. I am really happy to include it in the Therapist Notebook III to be published sometime in 2008. The description of your work is awesome and your clients are lucky to have you as a therapist!” –Kate Sori, PhD

Why wasn’t my success in getting this article published recognized by the larger VOH leaders and organization? It would be good to get an answer. My sense is that the competition among leaders for “top dog” status played a role.

And how did the competition among leader teams specifically show up related to this new model of training and implementing psychodrama?

The argument that VOH should not have only “one” method of doing psychodrama, frequent reference that there are many ways to do psychodrama, and the worst and most cynical behind the back criticism called it a “clusterf..k” method.

Anyone who has been around men’s work knows that “clusterf..k” is used as a derogatory statement to criticise the way the Mankind Project (MKP) implements psychodrama.

Even as I write, I am shocked at how unscientific and resistant people and an organization can be to more effective ways of accomplishing significant tasks.

I am personally proud of my contribution to this effort, along with Kurt Schultz. The men who learned this model understand first hand how helpful it is to have a “conceptual map” to learn such a complex process.

Will VOH spend the next 10 years trying to find men who can commit to each other in a dyadic relationship?

If the answer is yes, VOH will continue to be stuck in the mud and have trouble filling weekends.

How many teams have failed already in this effort? I know at least 3 and I have no idea how the Wisdom Years program is run even after spending 4 years going to Board meetings and even attending the Boston weekend.

So, what is the theoretical model for Breakthrough weekends psychodrama? If you ask the current leaders, they will likely say “there are many different ways to facilitate psychodrama” and “no method fits all situations.”

But what are they really saying? What is the shadow (unspoken or unconscious) message?

The message is “if we keep telling everyone that the success of the psychodrama is based on the intimate relationship of the two leaders and we can continue to be the two leaders for the rest of our life, we will get all the glory when we are able to work some through a psychodrama process.”

Like the wizard behind the screen in the wizard of oz, keep the men thinking it is really the magic of the wizard(s) not a scientific and research based process that most anyone can learn.

The men in the Mankind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure have used a collaborative model for many years. It’s not just two people, but teams of men who have been trained and experienced in facilitating psychodrama.

This is why MKP has programs around the world and VOH is still trying to figure out its own theoretical identity.

We can say that change takes time…but after nearly 20 years of trying and failing, why would the leaders not rally round the more collaborative model based on psychodrama research and practice? For there to be any growth in programs, leaders have to both lead and teach to help other men trying to step up into leadership.

I would have to rule out fears of competition, losing their leader status, resentment that they could not arrive at a way of doing this, and also grandiosity…no one else is supposed to be able to lead psychodrama work, except those chosen few, the ultimate success of any weekend based on the love of the two leaders for each other and that love trickling down to staff (or is it “servicemen”) and the participants at weekends.

The other problem with the leadership development process was the lack of cohesion and transparency in the original VOH leadership group. Two principal leaders left the original leader group right after vetoing experimenting with a new leader model.

It is true that there was a meeting where they presented the idea of them setting up meetings with prospective WY leaders, but it was stated that any new people would not be placed on the VOH board and would not participate in the current team of leaders (bob, buddy, paul, kevin, bill kurt, steve and joe).

It was a subtle, but definitive moment. Two leaders went off and created a separate group of leaders who became competitors to the Breakthrough leaders and probably among themselves as well. The two leaders who went off alone chose them and no one from the other leader team or VOH board had any input.

As I look back on this, I personally can say it was like a secret demotion. I went from being one of eight leaders in the organization to being a leader in one program along with what turned out to be many leaders in the Wisdom Years program.

Am I saying this was wrong? Yes. I believe I had earned the right to be a leader through my own hard work, study, leading support groups over many years for the Breakthrough Weekend, writing, training, participating on the VOH Board (who really likes Board meetings?:), training, credentials, brains and other activities.

After several years, I still had not met most of the Wisdom Years leaders and still do not know what they did to earn the privilege of being a program leader.

I suspect that being the therapy client of someone played a role.

What has been the result of this decision?

To date, the Wisdom Years leaders have been reluctant to meet with the other Breakthrough leaders…for some unknown reason.

This is not a good thing….certainly on the cohesive and collaborative scale, seems like more negative outcomes for leaders.

Looking at evaluation, I would say there is some progress here. Rick Simon is a professional person and will eventually get all the leaders to begin doing evaluations and submitting them to him or Kurt or the appropriate board person.

However, shouldn’t the VOH board have received the results of all the evaluations? I believe so. The evaluations are not just for the leaders, but for the Board and entire organization.

So, in closing, I reached a point of frustration and lost hope that any of the changes I saw as important to the organization would happen soon. I accept that I became impatient and saw various maneuvers to bring the organization back to a place of “working for a few”, rather than “for the whole.”

Things like paying for someone to write a play, the idea of the Wisdom Years expanding to another city, the squabbles of where to have the annual dinner, who should the dinner proceeds go to, my time wasted debating the appropriateness of prolonged nudity and silence during a weekend, and finally the inappropriate, video shown at the annual dinner 2 years ago (about 2006), all led me to lose faith in the integrity of the men involved to follow the spirit of the organizations strategic plan adopted by the VOH Board.

I also lost faith in my own ability to weather the storms of resistance I saw and experienced related to creating healthy change in the organization’s program, procedures, and culture.

Apparently, I was the only one who placed more importance on the items of my vision, which is identical to the vision detailed in the strategic plan.

For others, a play, special interests about certain parts of weekends, getting a DVD, taking “their” program to other cities (like the MKP?)….all these issues I considered a deviation from the original vision and mission I signed up for in 2003-4.

I don’t hold my views expressed in this letter out to be the only truth. I encourage others to speak up, write, and further the dialogue about differences and conflict, so characteristic in a democratic society.

I hope that the men remaining will be strong and open in their debate about where VOH is headed. Things have not changed enough for me and the universe has conspired with me to dramatically change the way I do things.

I wish all of you well.

Sincerely,

Bill Martin, LCSW

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