Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Humpty Dumpty Lesson: Work to be Done

Most people I know are reeling following our national election. Me too.
Pundits have dissected—up, down and sideways—the reasons behind HRC’s failure to be president-elect. Their insights offer plenty to chew on, and I’ve found myself thinking about other power structures and (sort of) similar changes in what had been functional governance, a macro, micro parallel. 

Take NAEHCY (National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth). I’ve been a member for decades. Membership only required dues. Any involvement on my part was a bonus—for the organization and for the cause. I would go to the annual meeting, vote, feel good about the direction and structure, and then head out to not think much about it. Until this year.

I won’t go into the gory details. Trust me, it’s been gory. 

What had been a fairly functional organization, well-regarded in all circles from Washington DC to Washington State, has crumbled. From my viewpoint, the board shifted seismically in this past year, with a vacuum of leadership being filled by some with apparently limited abilities to guide in a democratic, transparent way. The struggles of this past year have caused many good board members to resign. It also resulted in the departures of 3 key contractors, aka staff, which bodes ill for our cause, at least for the time being. And the future of the organization is shaky. 

Some of us tried to rally and bolster the flagging board, but apparently it was too little, too late. And now, with most of us mired in our own challenges, the “leaders” are free to do as they please. 

“Leaders,” not really, because true leaders would try to be more communicative, inclusive, and process-oriented. As we are seeing on the national level, the dictator approach suits some better. Choices to fill key slots are made for self-interest, with an eager lineup of those willing to pursue selfish opportunities, or at least step in with a clueless disregard of legacy and responsibility. Power corrupts, and it’s a painful ride on the road to irreparable. 

I’ve spent too much time pondering how we got to this point—macro and micro. The crux of my rumination settled on the lack of capable, selfless people willing to do the work. 

Organizations, on every level, need worker-bees. Members need to pay attention. Speak up. Be kindly critical before it’s too late. 

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, 
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; 
All the king's horses and all the king's men 
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Humpty’s fate notwithstanding, here are my “10 Commandments” of survival:
  1. Recognize, and challenge, dysfunction, before it’s too late.
  2. Protect the election process.
  3. Have, and adhere to, strong guidelines—constitution or by-laws.
  4. Hold feet to fire, before (preferably), during and after.
  5. Don’t let powerful self-interests infect your governing board. 
  6. Beware of those whose apparent mental impairments impede their ability to govern.
  7. Don’t be afraid to stand up to bullies. 
  8. Cultivate, nurture and communicate with your base of dissenters, before it’s too late.
  9. Shine an incessant bright light.
  10. Build leadership by encouraging and guiding potential leaders.
Once we find ourselves in the unenviable position of a broken country or organization, we are faced with painful decisions on how to survive, how much energy to put into revival, or whether to walk away.

I’ve committed to making changes that are good for me, and hopefully good for those causes for which I care deeply. In one case, it will mean a change of direction. The other, hunkering down and choosing when/how to contradict ugliness. Sitting on the wall is not an option. Just ask Humpty Dumpty.

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