Nov 28 2008

Draft:Victories of the Heart: Failure to Implement the Letter and Spirit of the Board Approved 2004 Strategic Plan’s Unified Leadership Development Action Plan

In March of 2008, I was well into my conflicts with the original leaders.

By now, I could see how they misunderstood or ignored the 2004 Strategic Plan action plans, especially regarding leadership development.

The not-yet-ready for expansion Wisdom years was in the process of failing in Boston, yet the original leaders were in full swing to try to expand out west. This was still during a time when they also thought pouring tequila onto the genitals of participants at the Wisdom years was a good idea.

To me, this was one of the downsides of a two person leader team…they could convince each other of “their own brilliant ideas”, without evaluating them in the real world.

In the real world of the 2004 VOH Strategic Planning process, bright and dedicated men met, explored possibilities, worked to find consensus, and then ratified specific action plans.

However, the leadership development Action Plan (see below) from the 2004 Strategic Plan was mostly disregarded, and in my opinion, trashed.

The only element of the leadership development action plan to be developed and succeed was the Psychodrama training for which Kurt and I were primarily responsible.

Regarding leadership development, there was a clear consensus leaders prior to 2004 had failed at developing successful plans. Several leader teams failed, primarily because of the lack of adequate training and a top down, systemic selfishness. If it was not in the line of sight for the original leaders, it was invisible.

During the Strategic Planning process, there was never any discussion about the original leaders going off on their own to develop new leaders and a competing leader group.

The facilitators of the Planning retreat were bright men who knew better. They were very professional and the discussion and consensus of all of us who volunteered many hours to participate in this planning effort is written clearly in the Action Plan itself.

The Strategic Plan Action Plan report should be made available to the current Board and leaders for their review so they can see who far off the leadership development process is from that 2004 plan.

There is absolutely no mention, nor was there any discussion, that creating two separate, disconnected, and competing leader groups (Wisdom and Breakthrough/Shadow leaders) would be a good idea or even an idea worth considering.

To go off and create this new leader group was thoughtless and counter-productive to everything we were trying to accomplish and disregarded the letter and spirit of the leadership development Action plan ratified by Board and leaders at the Strategic Plan.

The discussion of moving VOH from a “ma and pa” to a more professional organizational structure required the “ma and pa” to surrender to the process, and when they had difficulty, to be supported back onto the path of collaborating with other well-intentioned men.

The collaboration would obviously include disagreements and conflicts, but they were best resolved in the open where the process could strengthen the individuals involved and the organization.

The intent of the Strategic Plan report was clear. In black and white, the task of debating the pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses of all of our ideas and reaching a consensus about leadership development is made clear in the Action plan. It was supposed to be an inclusive and transparent process.
The men facilitating the Strategic Plan were very bright and they captured the consensus thinking of the diverse group very well.

They and most of us understood that we had to first develop a conceptual map about training…policies and procedures, before programming, to include an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the dyad, two person leader teams.

It was a three step process of “ready, aim, shoot.”

By failing to adhere to the written Action plans, the old, dysfunctional pattern of the original leaders holding sway took over.

The strong man let the foxes back in the chicken coop.

He should have been stronger, set limits, here and elsewhere. His idea of letting them do “their thing” set them up for more stress, discontent and complaints (mainly from me) and the failure of their grandiose plan to compete with MKP by spreading the Wisdom years in other cities.

Their approach reminded me of a religious, missionaries being planted in another land with the hope they can convince the locals to convert.

The original leaders contacted any “big names” in the therapy field they could find in other cities, offered them a franchise, smiled a lot, and if they failed, it would be because they weren’t able to “recruit.”

It would be their fault, not the dysfunctional, haphazard, and chaotic development plan, or a program opening with tequila poured onto the genitals of the participants.

Hey, what a winning strategy!
Their approach to leader and program development failed in the years prior to 2004. Why would the strong man (and the rest of us) allow them to make the same mistakes?

Well, one reason is it was all done so secretly, I don’t think anyone really knew there was a decision for the original leaders to go off and create a different leader group that would parallel and compete with the now diminished and degraded leader group of 6.

The other reason is the original leaders preferred to influence things behind the scenes using their strong man. I’m guessing there would be a breakfast meeting where the strong man’s ego would be massaged or challenged with the end result that he now held the exact same beliefs as the original leaders and would go out and do their bidding.

My intuition tells me the three of them had such a meeting just prior to the last (though not known to anyone else) weekend leader team of 8.

At this historic “last meeting”, the original leaders vetoed the idea of changing the dyadic, two person leader teams. We began discussing the problems with the volunteer day and other VOH sponsored volunteer projects, the components of the evolving leadership training ideas, including those for the Wisdom years.

After the meeting, the original leaders went off and “did their own thing”, ostensibly with the blessings of one man only, the strong man. However, this was a secret between them.

Result? Failure.

Here is the Leadership Development Action plan as written in the Strategic Plan report which served as the organizational blueprint for creating change:

“ACTION PLAN:

A. Develop policy and procedure that specifies a path for leadership training
B. Specify skills necessary for Heartwork facilitation, and initiate a forum for teaching those skills
C. Rethink the Spirit of Generosity program
D. Increase training for Keep-it-Up leaders
E. Ensure that the new model of leadership training allows for men to volunteer rather than just being chosen for that role
F. Evaluate the practice of maintaining fixed leadership teams versus mixing up the teams

Paul Kachoris volunteered to pursue this program with the Weekend Leadership Group.”

All those who ratified these Action plans understood the task was to develop an organizational infra-structure which could develop policies, procedures and programs to enable volunteer men to learn skills and evolve into leadership roles during weekends.

There is other language which stipulates that the weekend leader group of 8 would make final selections and vetos of new leaders.

This of course never happened.

If anyone doubts this, ask to see the written leadership development policies and procedures. I’m sure there are none. This would have required identifying, discussing, and resolving specific points of conflict.

The original leaders, I’m guessing met with the current strong man at the time, and got him to give permission (I’m sure he had the illusion of choice) to allow them to do whatever they wanted.

I think this is where the manipulation of telling him he and I would be in charge of the Breakthrough weekend and they would be “in charge” of the Wisdom years occurred.

Of course, this is far, far from what all the Board and leaders agreed to at the Strategic Planning process. I and other self-respecting men did not sign on to allow the original leaders to use us, our energies and money to “wing it” their way.

The 2004 Strategic Plan was trashed.

The other six leaders (the not important, not doing anything leaders) were axed out of any power related to the leadership development Action plan.

And sadly, we were set up to feel confused and resentful at this other group of men being “anointed” by the original leaders to be Wisdom years leaders.

Obviously, we should have been friends and colleagues. Instead, these men became a mystery group, isolated, disconnected, and competitive. Although there were several men who crossed boundaries, it was like two enemy camps.

As a Breakthrough weekend leader who had turned 50, I (and others) were constantly badgered about “doing the Wisdom years weekend.”

It was hyped as something we needed to do to become complete as human beings. I have no doubt these men were “encouraged” by the original leaders, as this was their style…have someone else, a strong man or therapy client agitate for something they in fact wanted.

At one point, I asked a man to stop talking to me about doing the weekend. The pressure to do the weekend had become rude and disrespectful.

Clearly, I may have been the only one who understood our task was to create unified policies, procedures, and programs for VOH leadership development.

The email I received from one of them illustrated that there were two different opinions.

My opinion was the original leaders bifurcated the leadership development process and, as a result, damaged the positive momentum of organizational develolpment after the 2004 Strategic Planning process.

Further, I believed and the email confirmed to me these original leaders saw the development of new leaders as a sort of competition between them and, perhaps, everyone else.

In the email, this leader states:

” Before we turned to adding potential leaders to the WY we spoke with Breakthrough leaders about bringing up new men into leadership – about succession – on several occasions…”

I was there, and my notes and the 2004 Action Plan from the Strategic plan clearly articulate the need for a leadership development program. The leader group of 8 (Bob, Buddy, Kurt, Paul, Kevin, Bill, Joe and Steve) were all working on it together.

This collaborative study and planning for a leadership development policies and procedures are documented by my May 2005 notes from the sub-committee of the larger weekend leader group of 8.

The original leaders were present when these ideas were presented and in fact it was one of those leaders who suggested the Breakthrough leaders jointly lead a weekend to share our ideas.

There was absolutely no discussion of that weekend leader group terminating, nor was there any permission asked for or given to the original leaders going out and selecting new “weekend” leaders for the Wisdom years and creating a competitive leader group some of whom were virtual strangers to the rest of us.

What this leader writes to me next as an explanation reveals a lot about the underlying competition they felt with the rest of us.

He states:

” Before we turned to adding potential leaders to the WY we spoke with Breakthrough leaders about bringing up new men into leadership – about succession – on several occasions…”

then next:

“We certainly needed them to (developing new Breakthrough leaders) as we had been so out of the loop on Breakthrough participants that we couldn’t know who was appropriate. Nothing was forthcoming – no shame, no blame, just a statement of fact (his words). We knew that we were older and getting older and needed to begin our own succession plan.

Other men read this too, and whether they were incredulous or not is irrelevant.

I found it amazing for this leader to say “we needed the Breakthrough leaders to create a leadership development program and NOTHING WAS FORTHCOMING-NO SHAME, NO BLAME, JUST A STATEMENT OF FACT.”

Apparently, he did not see he and his leader partner as part of a process. He was sitting back and judging the other 6 leaders as not doing anything.

I don’t know how this could be true as he and his partner had a strongly negative opinion of moving away from the dyadic, two person leader teams. The debate was about 5 minutes long and the only discussion that weekend leader group ever had about this critical issue.

Why was this such a critical issue? One main reason is the dyadic, two person leader teams formed sub-groups within the larger organization, much like the franchise business model in which they derived their power and authority from the original leaders.

Conflict, or some allegiance to set of policies or procedures, a central moral code was missing. These dyadic leaders followed the norm of the original leaders and did just about whatever they wanted, including selecting whoever they wanted to staff their weekends. Selection of staff is one way these leader teams consolidated their little bit of power.

The unrestrained power of the dyadic, two person leader teams also explains how the Shadow weekend leaders could have so many unscientific aspects to “their” weekend…because it was “their” weekend and woe to anyone who might challenge them.

I also guess the original leaders read about the idea that leaders should be selected on merit by a collaborative Board/leader group, as they made sure this would never happen.

Their betrayal of the unified weekend leader group of 8 leadership development process, whether deliberate or not, severely damaged the organizational development process.

It sent a clear message to self-respecting men on the Board that these leaders were either ignorant of the 2004 Strategic Plan’s action plans ratifed by Board and leaders or thought they were above any authority of the non-profit and could do just about anything they wanted.

People can deny this if they want, but after I resigned, most of the volunteer men from the Board who were not leaders also resigned. These were very successful men who donated time and money to help VOH evolve into a more mature successful organization.

What they got was original leaders doing whatever they wanted, including leading a group that wanted to secede from the organization and programs where tequila was poured on the genitals of men, nudity, body paint, dangerous objects, and extensive use of silence.

If they are reading this now, they also know the potential for leaders to get high and kill a pet rat and overt, virulent antisemitism was also what was happening behind the scenes.

The original leaders got what they wanted, but it failed to get them out of Oz to Boston.

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