“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, November 15, 2008

How Did I Feel?

Thursday I wrote about the big meeting and one of the comments was, "How Did I Feel About It? or rather, how do I feel about it?

At the time, as I led the meeting I was not as calm and self-differentiated as I would have liked. But of course the meeting was all about me, how I am being perceived, how I am leading, what I am doing. Its hard to write about...not because I don't want to talk about failure on my part or mis-perceptions on their part. But because I don't want to be public with their emotions, their comments, and their feelings, which need to be respected and held between us.

So, without saying much more, I will aim to write about how I felt, how I feel. Like I said, I was not as calm and self-differentiated as I hoped to be. I imagined myself inviting them to speak, talking notes, and listening gracefully. I imagined myself taking a few moments to respond and share with them my take on the dynamics at play. All of that happened....just not calmly. My voice, I think, revealed the contained emotion I was holding back: the desire to cry, the desire to be angry, the desire to say, "Where have you all been?"

I had my report, given to them months ago, laying out everything I hoped we would to do over the next six months. In that previous meeting we discussed this report point by point and agreed to all of it, with a few amendments. And this is what we have been doing in the months since that meeting. I wanted to say, "Does no one remember discussing and agreeing to this? I did say, "Given that we agreed to it, I have been living into this exactly." and, "I intended to free you up from some of the day to day burden in order to enable you to think more creatively...but rather than become creative the freedom raised your anxiety and unhinged you... So, here is another itinerary of where we are going." And again, I laid out a (revised) plan to proceed forward.

Now, what is it that I am trying to do? I am trying to get them to think creatively about who we are and craft a vision of who we are as a parish. They struggle to recognize how the vision work is as important as their fiduciary role in parish leadership. Actually, the vision work is more important at this juncture of new leadership, because everything else hinges on this work. So, I said, from the vision, once we have articulated it, we can design our strategy to live into that vision, as a parish, as leaders, as staff, as committees. From the strategy will come goals - for the parish, the leaders, the staff, the committees. From the goals come our course of action for the next program year, possibly the next five program years. Once that work is done, the hope is we will have more cohesion between all the various fabulous committees and work we do - the right hand will know what the left hand is doing. We will have a means (vision, strategy, goals) by which to articulate who we are, what we do, what we hope to do, and the impact we are making, and hope to make, on the world around us.

This really is a fabulous community. I stand in awe of what is accomplished. All I want is for it to be conveyed more comprehensively, cohesively, and clearly. Well, that and I want us to function with trust, with collegiality, and as a team working together, not as individual silos....It really should not be this hard.

But the reality is, shifting the paradigm from: individual committee work that is disconnected from any sense of a cohesive whole, ie silo mentality to: team work that is connected to a cohesive whole; is the biggest, scariest, least understood, process for this group. And I get that. Which is why I wanted to manage my feelings and express what needed to be said without fueling the anxiety.

It occurs to me that this group of long retired folk, gifted and brilliant as they are, never experienced vision work in the work place. In my previous church, as we did vision work, they all had done something like this in their jobs. The corporate world has adopted vision work, team leadership, collegiality - but none of these folk ever experienced that, they retired before that became a working model. So. I am beginning to understand just how foreign this all is.

Alban Institute says that as leaders we have to adapt (temporarily?) our leadership style to fit the desired leadership, or at least the familiar leadership style, of the church. I have had to adapt from mutual collegial, to authoritarian.

It's tough on both of us - me and the leadership team. I don't like being authoritarian, but I can. And clearly they don't want me to really do this (be authoritarian), even though it is the familiar way....so we are working to change the leadership culture....and it is producing anxiety....To some degree this shift has been articulated, but it needs more discussion...something we will do in our winter retreat on Mutual Ministry, which is being led by someone other than me.

Over the course of the meeting my emotions calmed, from a low simmer, to a non-anxious presence, and I then was more like I hoped to be.

My hope is we will move forward crafting what needs to be done and continue to do the hard work of building trust in one another.

Do I feel better since that meeting. Yes. and no. I am glad we had it and could lay on the table the current of anxiety, that is always helpful. I'm glad I had that document in writing showing, at least from my perspective, that I have been doing what I thought we agreed too. I am not sure where the meeting will lead us and if it will serve to build greater trust. And, mostly I suspect, as is often the case, the work will continue to be a challenge for another couple of years until the leadership paradigm is shaped and takes hold and is embraced by everyone who holds a leadership position.