Sep 17 2009

How Victories Persuaded Me from Pursuing Leadership Training in MKP

A friend just the other day told me, “Hey, you were around when it was called the Men’s Room!” I smiled and said yes. I guess it’s nice to be remembered.

Endings are usually pretty complicated. My ending(s) with Men’s Room (MR), later to be renamed Victories of the Heart (VOH) was, well complicated.

What people may not know is I had two endings with VOH, one in about 1994-95 when it was called Men’s Room and one when it was called Victories of the Heart in 2008.

In about 1994, a friend and I were selected to be one of the early leadership teams in the MR. I don’t think I was really that popular, but my friend was. I think it was assumed that together we made a good team.

It was not a good fit for me then, but that’s not the interesting part of the story. It’s how the leaders at the time made their decision.

In the early 1990’s Men’s Room leaders had a respectful competition going on in their own minds about the rapid growth of the New Warrior Training Adventure in Milwaukee and Chicago. The Warrior weekend is now on 5 continents with about 200 weekends a year and many men’s centers such as the one here in Chicago.

It’s safe to say that the Warrior program resonated with men on an international scale and their leadership development promoted a bottom up type of growth. Not so for the Men’s Room, now Victories.

While I had a vague sense of being “groomed” for some leadership position in the Men’s Room, I really didn’t believe the structure was right for me. I staffed a weekend shortly after participating and imagined it would be a “more cool” experience for me.

Instead, my friend and I were the only “newbie” staff and were essentially the “carry water and firewood” guys. While we were working, the other six men essentially were sitting around engrossed in their training. Understandable, but my first view on the tiered process of leadership in the Men’s Room. I didn’t like it. Separate and unequal.

Don’t misunderstand, watching the leaders facilitate “heartwork” was incredible. I felt honored to be present. My extensive family therapy training and personal work helped me see how profound it was for men to begin to face their vulnerability and trauma. I was at least a witness, even though my role was insignificant.

Later, I staffed a Warrior weekend and my experience was remarkably different.

It was fun to be a part of a large staff working on behalf of the guys who came to the weekend. The Warrior weekend is a big production and many hands are needed to prepare the space and all the elements of the event. Lots of guys, doing lots of things, smoking cigars, talking in small circles, having fun, embracing, visiting the sweat lodge to connect with the Water pourers. There was a lot to experience and take in. As staff, we were able to participate in any part of the weekend exercises so long as we were free. It was all good.

At the Warrior weekend, the leadership structure was one Full Leader and three co-leaders. Already a key difference from MR/Victories. A shared, collaborative leadership style which was at once effective, democratic and engaging. I was enthused throughout the weekend, but the ending staff circle where men described their experience and checked out was an experience I will never forget.

It came to me speaking and as I looked around the room, I began to cry from a deep place inside my heart. I liked what I knew of the staff men and respected their voluntarism and skill, especially in the psychodramas (they call it “guts” work) they facilitated for the men.

I could see that small though my staff role, I was an integral part of something larger there that weekend. It was energetic, honest, and big enough to help me grow. It was hard not to want to be a “men’s leader” back then, but I could see that there were many men available to mentor me and there was a leadership track to follow. Through hard work, men could earn the right to be a leader in the Warrior program.

I also had a realization about MR. While staffing MR weekends, I was in awe and mesmerized by the creativity of the MR leaders with whom I volunteered. I thought of those MR leaders as almost “gurus or shamans.” I initially saw them trough my young guys eyes as creating miracles with their hearts, hands and minds. I couldn’t imagine there were others like them anywhere.

Well, there were. They were regular staff at a Warrior weekend. I witnessed the same sort of miracles both during my own Warrior weekend and later more clearly as part of the staff. Regular staff guys facilitating brilliant and creative “guts” work (psychodrama) helping to change men’s lives.

It was like looking behind the Wizard’s curtain. The MR guys had all participated more or less with the Warrior program. They had to be influenced, so why not be more transparent. When I gushed over their psychodrama facilitation, why not talk about it as something they learned instead of something they divined. My idealization of them received it’s first scratch.

However, these Warrior guys were just doing it as part of teams, never taking credit in any way for their creativity or pushing someone else out of the way to maintain their place in the spotlight. The leaders of the weekend actually took a back seat and acted more as coaches helping the staff guys become more skilled.

I could see that these Warrior staff guys were learning this process they called “guts” work and facilitating it skillfully, changing men’s lives. It wasn’t something “spiritual” or resulting from some vertical connection to g-d. It had been learned and there were a lot of teachers. For the first time, I could see myself doing this.

I made a decision at that moment to pursue the leadership development process for the Warrior weekend. I believed there was no leadership opportunity within the MR/Victories program for me. What I saw of the dyadic (two men who “were committed to each other first”) model just didn’t resonate and I had no idea how I could “qualify”, whatever that might mean. I suppose it was a form of homophobia, but if so, it was confused by the fact that the dyadic leader teams were made up of men with wives and children who professed their deep attachment and connection, as part of their leadership role.

Leadership in MR/VOH was hierarchical. There were two founders, then they selected the additional leadership teams. The role of the staff was not to lead, but follow in admiration of the two leaders. Staff were mainly to support the process and follow requests by the two leaders. My eventual leader partner and I tried to enforce a rule that during check-out, the staff guys had to admire themselves, not us!
Most knowledgeable therapists understood the pattern of clients going through a process of “idealization” with the therapist. I saw this time and again, and in fact, I did “idealize” MR leaders. I was young, vulnerable and easily influenced at the time. I became part of the guys who were supposed to help MR become something bigger than it was. Often referred to as  a “mom and pop” organization, the two leaders made every effort to “grow the organization” in the best way they knew.
It’s a pretty risky process for the therapist/leader who does not know how to deal with this idealization. The proper method is to notice and describe what is happening in the relationship, so the person/client does not see the leader/therapist in some unrealistic manner. I often will just say something like, “you’re just noticing something in me you haven’t quite recognized in yourself yet. I am pretty human and have gone through many of the things you have, so it’s ok to take me off the pedestal.”

In those early years, there was no blueprint for organizational growth. Recruitment became essential if there were to be more weekends and leaders. Unfortunately, the therapists recruiting seemed to always begin with their own clients. I myself worked with one of the MR leaders in therapy. Should therapists recruit their clients to attend weekends in which they are a leader? This was an ethical issue and created countless dual-relationships throughout the process, some with bad results, like with me. To their credit, the current VOH leadership have a rule now that therapist leaders are prohibited from having their own clients attend a weekend they are leading. This is a good thing and big step forward.

So, when I decided to enter the Warrior weekend leadership process, I informed the MR/VOH leaders. Their response was unsettling. My friend and I were requested to meet with two leaders and we did so at my office at Bonaventure House here in Chicago. We were kept in the dark about the purpose of the meeting, but I had a fantasy.

I thought (and wished) these two men would ask us to share the leadership of the weekend my friend and I had done so much to help prosper. I had always referred 2-3 men for every weekend and my friend was a musical genius who was universally loved by every man who participated in every weekend.

While others can say we were not that important in the grand scheme of things, I knew from my part of every athletic team I played on that the best leadership came in following the leader, supporting them in their efforts. My friend and I did this routinely. He with his music and intuitive genius, me with my extensive role on teams and in leadership. I was content not to be the leader and found it to be a relief. It was a respite from my parentified role in my alcoholic and dangerous family and the demands of leadership I had previously experienced.

So, my fantasy was only a fantasy. We were told that the other leaders wanted us to be the next leadership team (was it the 3rd or 4th?). However, they had decided they wanted us to run a non-residential weekend, as there (seemed) to be a need for it. Actually, I am sure they felt we were not up to the challenge of leading a residential weekend. I know this mostly because at the time, it was true.

A weekend date was set and a new brochure insert was created. Of course, we paid for the production of the insert. Then we worked on developing the staff team and recruiting (there is that word!!).

It was an uphill climb, but we were doing our best. A few months before the weekend, I received an announcement in the mail (there was regular mail then). The Men’s Room organization announced another weekend offering on the same weekend of our non-residential weekend. It was a weekend with a writer who considered himself a shaman.

I was angry about this and made phone calls to find out how the organization could do this. I was told not to worry, it would have no impact on our weekend. Sure.

Next, about 2 months before the weekend was to occur, a colleague called me to tell me he had called the MR office to sign up for our non-residential weekend and was told “not to bother, the weekend was not going to happen.”

Whoever told him that was right. The weekend did not happen. My friend and I decided to find a way to slowly and peacefully extricate ourselves from the MR and our responsibilities for the non-residential weekend. This was about 1994-95.

I could be wrong, but I came to believe the MR guys wanted to divert me from joining the Warrior leadership training. Whether I am right or not, it worked.

I did not join the Warrior leadership training, although I participated in several “guts” (really psychodrama) trainings. I had committed to being on a dyadic MR leader team around 1994, then resigned and slowly drifted away. A terrible experience at a Shadow program sealed the deal for me and I separated from the Men’s Room, now Victories, until 2004 about ten years later when I was promised things would be different.

No responses yet

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply