Leadership, Vision

The Wrong Reason

A friend posted an article from the Vancouver Sun blog today that caught my attention. Here’s the opening line:

United Church of Canada Rev. Gretta Vosper has become a celebrity and sold many copies of her books by writing about how Christianity should just drop the “God” thing.
It’s a provocative introduction to a provocative piece about a provocative person. Obviously the heart of the issue is whether it is appropriate for a committed atheist to serve as a congregational leader in a church that holds explicit convictions in the existence of God. While I have my own opinions on that issue (she and her congregation should resign from the United Church of Canada or have their status with it revoked), I think there’s something else going on here that crosses over to many organizations regardless of whether they claim to be religious. In my work developing the REACTION Dashboard tool over the last couple years I’ve seen numerous organizations that have Alignment problems. They have people, programs, or even departments that are operating towards a Reason other than the one established for the organization as a whole. It always drains energy and resources from the stated objectives and eventually causes glaring inconsistency like the story above. Directional dissonance this severe usually happens slowly, over time, and is rooted in leadership that fails to set and hold to a strong Mission/Vision/Values. The United Church of Canada has struggled with this for years it seems. The problem isn’t that they have taken a particularly liberal theological stance (though some see that as the root of the issue). The problem is that they have failed to take any firm stance. With no clear boundaries or focus it follows naturally that there is no core accountability. It is nearly impossible to define what unifies an organization like this. What is true of one local congregation is not indicative of anything in another. Defining what you don’t do is essential to any healthy organization. The meaningful solution would be for the national leadership to work diligently, with extensive involvement from all levels of participants, to develop a clear, specific, and compelling Reason for the organization and then do the harder work of requiring Alignment to that Reason from all clergy and congregations; knowing it will be immensely complex and costly in many ways. It may be that the slide has gone on so long that there is neither the strength nor the conviction to be so bold. If so there will continue to be similar challenges in various ways moving forward. The problem with The United Church of Canada isn’t Rev. Gretta Vosper. Any healthy organization needs some rebels and contrarians within to raise their voices and challenge the status quo, as well as an openness to hear from outside voices and consider the observations, insights, and critiques that may prove valuable. The problem is that the Reason for the organization is so vaguely applied that its impossible to distinguish whether she and those who share her convictions are inside or outside voices. In any organization that is an indication of a leadership issue deeper and more concerning than any particular provocateur.