One of my favorite non-profit leaders recently shared with me that there is someone in every institution that people “work around.” And that person makes accomplishing the mission difficult, if not impossible. Examples:
- The volunteer who will not let go of a position that he/she has had for several years even though it’s more about control at this point than service.
- The person around whom people walk gingerly because you never know when she/he will be explosive or testy. Often this same person can be lovely, but you just never know.
- The person who challenges every new idea because “somebody’s got to be the devil’s advocate.“
- The person who is “too valuable” to criticize because he/she threatens to leave if challenged.
So who did you picture in your mind as I described the people above?
These folks might genuinely love the institutions they serve in their own confused way. Maybe they don’t mean to be saboteurs or destroyers or toxic players, but that’s exactly what’s happening.
It takes utter bravery to help them shift away from their current leadership. And they might indeed leave. And they will take their money with them – which terrifies financially struggling institutions. And maybe they will trash talk the institution every chance they get, once they’re gone.
But the organization will be healthier in the long run. Or the organization will indeed collapse, but that just confirms that the difficult people were allowed to perpetuate their mayhem to the point of no return. This doesn’t have to happen.
Relationships matter and we can create healthier organizations.
- Establish job descriptions for volunteers with term limits.
- Review volunteers regularly by talking honestly with them about what’s going well and what needs to be changed.
- Don’t be afraid. Especially in spiritual communities, doesn’t God deserve our best work and our best workers?
In fact, be confident and clear that our service is not about us. Whether we preach sermons or clean out closets, whether we sing in the choir or teach in the nursery school, our service is about the mission of the organization.
A former friend once told me – after she was asked to relinquish her position in our church – that she would spend the rest of her life ruining my reputation. Actually it turned out to be the best thing for both of us in the long run. Totally scary to shift her away from leadership, but worth it for everybody’s sake.
Image is Woman with Chignon by Picasso (1901)