Nov 28 2011

Victories of the Heart: Damaging Consequences of Not Following the Letter and Spirit of the Ratified 2004 Strategic Plan’s Action PLans, Especially in the Creation of Two Competing Leader Groups (Wisdom years and Breakthrough weekend)

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 plan 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.

Pouring tequila on the genitals of men was one of those events with meaning on multiple levels. On the surface, it’s a goofy thing the original leaders seemed to have copied from a so called south american shaman who drank a lot of tequila before a workshop I attended, then went around encouraging others to drink from the bottle as he was doing. Being in recovery for many years, I declined. However, when he came back around and pulled open the pants of each man and poured a swill of tequila down their pants onto their genitals, I guess I was too much in my low brain to say no.

Here’s where it comes to more symbolic meaning for was just a degrading experience. I have said something before about it being like we were being simultaneously awakened to our sexuality and chemically castrated for being bad (the tequila burned quite a lot).

I was not alone in my judgment, however this was another situation where I and another Board member were called upon to study this practice. It ended very quickly. I was not threatened with a lawsuit.

To me, this was one of the downsides of a two person leader team…they could convince each other of what good ideas they had, despite not evaluating them in the real world.

In the real world of a thorough Strategic Planning process, bright and dedicated men met, explored possibilities, ratified specific action plans, and then donated a minimum of $1000 each per year to help the organization (not specific leaders) reach its goals.

Regarding the leadership development process, there was a clear consensus the prior leaders had failed at developing successful plans. Several leader teams failed, primarily because of the lack of adequate training and a top down, leaders have to “recruit” for men to do their weekends.

The 2004 Strategic Plan never even suggested developing competing leader groups, as is what seemed to have happened between the Wisdom years and Breakthrough leaders. (I still do not know the facts, even though I was on the Board for 3 years during this conflict).

In fact, there were no other Wisdom years leaders besides the original leader team and should not have been any other leaders selected until we completed the Strategic planning process correctly. Specifically, this meant first developing 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.

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


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 of new leaders.

This of course never happened.

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.

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.

So, the six of us (not important, not doing anything leaders) were axed out of any investment in the Wisdom years group, and 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.

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, other Board members resigned too. 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.

I can’t forget the original leaders asking the team of 8 leaders to donate $150 each to pay for a play to be written. I was pressured to go to the reading, but am proud to say I didn’t go. I thought it was a terrible idea and back when I said yes, rather than no. I was told we would “own” the rights to the play and if it made money we and the organization would profit. It was one more bad marketing idea in which others were asked to give a lot and nothing, even a rough draft of the alleged play, was returned.

If they are reading this now, they also know I had to intervene and prevent leaders from smoking pot and kill a pet rat the night before a weekend,  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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