Dec 28 2008

Victories of the Heart: My Input for the 2004 Strategic Plan, More True Now Than in 2004

Along with the other leaders and board members, I was asked to write something for the 2004-2005 strategic planning process of the VOH organization.

This was a heady time when everyone thought that we were off to a new start after years of organizational struggles.

As George Bernard Shaw said, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”
Here are my written comments:

2004-2005 Victories of the Heart Strategic Planning Process
Here are some of my thoughts for our VOH strategic planning meeting.

“I believe it is important to re-create the vision, mission and program goals for the entire organization.

My sense is that the original focus of the organization was shaped by the times…men were newly excited by the men’s movement, “iron john”, men healing themselves, relationship with fathers, and all the discussions, conferences, etc.  Thus, VOH created the vision/mission of “creating a community of men healing men.” Unfortunately, this was/is also the vision/mission of MKP/Warriors.

So, two groups of talented energetic men trying to create a larger organization of programs serving men. However, maybe what happened was that two parallel organizations developed with some program overlap and competition.

I also would suggest that underlying (maybe unspoken) competition with the Warrior weekend overly influenced the evolution of VOH programming.

Rather than “stick to what works” (ie, the initial weekend format), programming efforts wandered trying to create new weekend experiences (advanced weekend, shadow weekend, next step, spirit of generosity) which have unfortunately been very different from the initial weekend format which men really loved.

One significant difference is that these other weekends do not have an opportunity for heartwork or pschodrama…we miss a tremendous oportunity for empowerment here.

Men expect to see the healing power of a psychodrama, but it never shows up. The success of the wisdom years seems to be an exception to the other programs faltering.

Evaluating all the programs would give us more information. However, my judgement is that if we do MORE psychodrama, we would have healthier, more enthusiastic men who could really partner with the leaders in the transformational healing of a weekend.

The Warrior weekend is essentially a “shadow” weekend and it does the job very well. Why do we try to compete with that weekend? Not a good idea in my judgment. Their success in building new centers and additional weekends is evidence of this fact, while we struggle to fill weekends.

The other factor is that additional weekends created more recruitment challenges and leader competition.

Men knew what happened during the initial weekend. All the other weekends were new and required another “leap of faith” for men to sign on and  participate.  Also, the other weekends required leaders to create an additional sub-group of men who would staff and recruit for these weekends. So  increased competition at the leader, staff and recruitment level of the organization.

All in all, if you look at the structure of the initial weekend, there are too many similarities to the warrior weekend…here are some of the similarities:

1.    vision of both organizations is “men healing men, healing communities, healing the planet…”
2.    program results in ongoing groups that can last as long as men are interested.
3.    graduation occurs and family are invited
4.    recruitment encouraged
5.    there is a psychodrama (we call it heartwork, they call it carpet work),
6.    men are asked to keep all the processes secret
7.    both programs have men from staff help get the ongoing groups started
8.    men are asked to put their watches away and not use last names (process of taking away their identity)
9.    the cost of the weekend is about the same ($590-650)
10.    men involved want both programs to spread around the globe
11.    leaders are compensated for their leadership time
12.    both programs want men to become involved, primarily by staffing weekends and volunteering in the community…
13.    both programs advertise being non-profits

how the programs are different:

1.    Warriors have employed a “community organizing/community education & prevention model (this model is used by many different organizations) where men are empowered at various levels of the organization to make decisions, perform pre-weekend and weekend tasks and other organizational development

2.    VOH (up until recently) has had an organizational structure which has been more hierarchical with less democratic  process.  Decisions were made by a few individuals without much process. This served to discourage any other men from becoming involved.  Decisions flowed from the top down, rather than the bottom up. Primarily the leaders initiated innovation.

3.    Warriors have invested in creating a staff training program component, which has trained, and certified the staff who help facilitate the ongoing groups, voh has not as yet done this.  The spirit of generosity is not a staff training event.

4.    Warriors own a men’s center and are actively looking to purchase a retreat center to hold their weekends.

5.    Warriors have an active and increasingly successful fundraising program which directly supports ongoing programming. VOH has been successful at fundraising, but decided to give the proceeds away to groups which almost exclusively were from Evanston (or so it seems), thus reinforcing the notion that VOH is a local Evanston, northern suburbs program.

6.    Warriors have an active, effective recruitment strategy and regularly fill weekends with men. VOH does not have any strategy and weekend recruitment is left almost entirely to weekend leaders and outside referral sources.

7.    VOH leaders and board of directors may be more at risk for legal liability and ethical complaints due to the emphasis of leader/therapists encouraging their clients to attend weekends and also later staff weekends.

8.    VOH does not advertise that the weekends are therapy, but internally, we talk about how “healing” this experience is for men and their families. This is a troubling dilemma. We are saying it is “therapeutic”, but it is not therapy. If it is not therapy, will therapist’s malpractice insurance cover me/us for any malpractice action? Do therapist leaders need to report to their malpractice provider that they are involved leading these weekends? There are probably other related legal/ethical questions.

9.    VOH’s program (for the  initial weekend) focuses on a larger group process, building a sense of safety based on confidentiality where men can address personal and inter-personal concerns.  The warrior weekend is at times an individual experience of initiation, which can result in men connecting with being a part of a larger group later.

10.    VOH weekend leaders are in dyadic teams; Warrior leaders are from all over the country and new leadership teams are created for each weekend.

11.    VOH does not evaluate any of its programs; Warriors (and every other competent organization) do evaluate their programs.

12.    Warriors have an extensive marketing and program for gay/bi-sexual and questioning men; VOH’s program tends towards heterosexism (men are assumed to be straight), so that men of different sexual orientations may not feel safe disclosing.

Heterosexism? This refers to the process where assumptions about straight sexual orientation are made and language (your wife vs. your partner) is used which presumes that men only want sex with women and only marry women.

While my “gaydar” is not perfect, I am sure that several men during weekends chose not to disclose their homosexuality.

There are probably many other similarities and differences, but my main point is that the Warrior weekend has succeeded in the “empowering men and creating a social movement to spread the vision, mission and program, where VOH has (with all due respect) has not yet achieved this goal.

So, I think it is time for VOH to reshape it’s vision, mission, and programs in a way that builds on our strengths, on ways in which we are different from the warrior weekend or any other competing men’s weekend.

VOH focuses more on emotions, communication, relationship building and resolving grief.

The masculine archetype that it seeks to nurture is that of the LOVER. The predominant emotion is love and the most common work during the weekend is resolving grief.  There is some anger work, but mostly as a path to help men access feelings of sadness so they may grieve.

The research is clear. Grieving helps human beings heal from loss. There is a beginning, middle and end to grieving and the public aspects of grieving during a weekend can be enormously beneficial.

Here are some of my ideas:

1.    Re-shape the vision, mission and programs to focus on “creating love, resolving grief, improving  relationships, etc”, and away from “men healing men.”

We get many referrals from female (there are more of these) and male therapists who really like what happens for their clients during a VOH weekend. Men become more “emotionally literate” and their ability to connect and build intimate relationships can be greatly improved.

The focus is on helping men increase their skills to:

·    Communicate
·    Build  relationships
·    Understand, name, and express emotions (emotional literacy)
·    Develop  insight about influences of their family of origin experience
·    Begin to address trauma issues in their lives
·    Understand, name and begin to resolve grief issues
·    Focus more on loss and sadness, so they can resolve grief and be less angry
·    Use psychotherapy more effectively or reduce the need for psychotherapy
·    Become more loving, invested, fathers, husbands, partners, friends, etc

We should build the vision, mission and programs from these above stated goals.

2.    Programs should become more integrated.

I believe we lose men after the initial weekend. The subsequent weekends are more departures from the exceptional experience of the initial weekend. As a result, men become disappointed and less involved.

The programs need to be more connected. Using the lover archetype as a guide, we should try to build more initial weekends as a core part of our program. We should consider eliminating the other advanced weekends (shadow weekend, next step, etc) and offers a weekend for graduates identical to the current initial weekend format. It would be more intense and might be topic focused. Possible topics could be “boot camp for husbands/partners”, dealing with sexuality, loss, healing from trauma, etc.

The men would do some pre-weekend work identifying their goals and objectives. Perhaps whole follow-up groups would attend as a way to regain focus and intensity in their work.

The wisdom years fit in as an excellent experience for men over 50.

3.    The organization must become serious about leadership development and training.

The current leadership structure has strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses are that it tends to foster competition, poor communication between leadership teams, sense of isolation from the larger organization, complacency among leaders (I am a leader now, until I choose to resign), and may diminish creativity and innovation.

I suggest beginning to experiment with a new leadership structure.  Create a new leadership position which would be paid (weekend coordinator?), so that the leadership teams would consist of 3 men, not 2. Consider having weekends where leadership teams collaborate. Kurt Schultz has already done this by staffing with Joe Seldess and Steve Curry.

Create other paid positions (men can donate their salary back if they are able) in the organization:

·    Executive Director (Kurt)
·    Director of Music (Andy Mitran)
·    Follow-up group Director
·    Marketing Director
·    Director of Evaluation

There are a few men who could step into these roles. Maybe there are other men interested from the Board or community.

Leadership training needs to become more structured and basic…. Leadership trainings 1, 2, and 3. The process also needs to be available to anyone who is interested instead of those selected.

4.    I am in favor of having the entire program being more transparent, rather than “keeping things secret.”

This is another Warrior idea, which VOH seems to have adopted which also keeps the program from expanding.  It may be more fun and meaningful for the men who lead and the staff to have men go through the weekend who don’t know what to expect.

However, it may also be easier to have men step forward if they or the person who wants them to go (therapist, partner, friend, etc) knows more about what they are getting into.

If partners/spouses knew what their loved ones would experience, they may be more likely to encourage participation.  I could be wrong, but we have never evaluated this issue, so we really don’t know anymore than our biases allow us to know.

5.    Use marketing language that men who have not been to any men’s weekend will understand.

Cardinal rule of selling anything or influencing anyone is to use language (words) that people understand and to which they can relate.  Words and concepts like facing your shadow, going deeper, spirit of generosity; even victories of the heart do not accurately engage men or their spouses when they first hear them. I speak to men and their partners about this all the time…people say “what…?”

Victories of the heart reminds people of something like the salvation army, that while noble and worthy, is not an attractive image.

The spirit of generosity also sounds lofty, but who but people in the know would understand that it is the organization’s “staff training” day. Why not call this day “staff training?” Seems like a better idea to use words that convey the accurate image and meaning so that people can relate to it.

Regarding the initial weekend…again, we understand it is the initial weekend, but it conveys very little about what happens during the experience.

Further, it implies that it is the first of several similar experiences that are available to the participant.  The future experiences are actually pretty different in structure and content.

Many years ago, a group of men met and studied this issue…there was a decision to change the name from Men’s Room to something else.

Many people joke about the sexual double entendre of the name “men’s room.” It is pretty obvious that “men’s room” also is a place where men go to use the bathroom, and have sex.

And the organization logo of a room with a door open also can suggest “men coming out of the closet.”

Whether intentional or not, discerning adults experience both the surface meaning and then the underlying sexual connotation as well.

The group of volunteer men took this task seriously and recommended a name, “Heartquest.”

This seemed like the appropriate name then and now to me. There may be another name, but it is crucial for us to start labeling the program with names that convey the correct image and meaning.

VOH is the name of the organization, the weekends (programs) could have their own name that serve to engage and influence potential participants and referral sources to want more information. I think we can be more creative than “initial weekend” for such a great weekend experience.

6.    We need to develop training for staff and leaders based on any revised vision, mission and program goals.

Again, every organization figures out what they do, breaks it down into training modules that are implemented so the organization can do what it does well and pass the knowledge on to others who can refine and advance the goals of the organization.

Aspects of our program, like psychodramas, can be taught so that men who staff or participate in ongoing groups can use these skills to improve their own and other’s lives.

7.    Everything we do needs to be examined and evaluated for the purpose of developing program standards and reducing any risk of harm and resulting liability problems.

We are all liable for what VOH does, but I know I don’t fully know what happens in other aspects of the program.  This is a formidable task and one that we all might rather not look at, but the potential negative consequences are very serious.

8.    Cost for the weekend should be evaluated.

How do we determine the fee for the weekend? What are the circumstances required for men to receive scholarships? What if we encouraged men who could afford more to donate more than the suggested fee?

9.    Develop a vision, mission and program goals for the Sunday workshop for spouses.

This could easily become a more vital part of the program. We could focus on many different issues, but I would start with teaching effective listening and speaking and ways to reduce the critical/defensive cycles of conflict couples so often experience.

This is probably a good place for me to end. I will send this on and continue to think about the strategic planning process and offer any additional thoughts before we meet.  I assume you will find some way to incorporate my thoughts in the overall process.


Bill Martin”

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