Thursday, August 2, 2012

Making Leaders feel Valued - Annie from Moishe House Boston

Every spring Moishe Kavod House hosts our community retreat, when 40 people come together for a weekend of relaxation and community processing. This retreat is also when we elect our new board, a finance chair, a president, a membership chair and a development chair. Each year, finding a board is challenging. The amount of work done by our leaders is daunting and other leaders in the community are more than hesitant to commit to the amount of work they see being done by their predecessors. This year, we were having a particularly difficult time finding a finance chair, ironic since it is the easiest position. It is also the least interesting position however so we found ourselves unable to fill it. We set about trying to find a candidate, creating a list of folks who we thought would be good candidates, and I sent out an email to our current board list asking them to keep an eye out. As I started calling our two top candidates I was surprised to find a reply to the list from one of the current board members, Rachel, volunteering to run for the position. This put me in a tricky position. The board member had been planning on leaving the board after having had a very difficult time in her position. Sensitive to criticism, in constant fear of judgment, and struggling to meet deadlines she was often unreliable and constantly struggling to lead her team. Her fear of judgment often hindered meetings, leading her to go off on defensive tangents or unable to take even minimal feedback, sometimes becoming rude and isolating others when she felt judged by them. As soon as the board member's offer to run went out the the list, I almost instantly had emails from three other board members expressing horror at the idea of her continued board role, and some board members who has planned on resigning offering to fill the seat instead of her. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't tell Rachel, “Sorry, we're going to have one of the other board members take it even though you offered first.” I replied all and thanked her for her offer, explained that had already reached out to a couple of candidates and wanted to follow through with that process rather than rescind all the encouragement we had given folks. Still, Rachel persisted and said she had thought about it and really wanted the position. I was torn between being honest with Rachel and just working incredibly hard to make sure someone else got elected. I decided that though I had reservations about Rachel's running, I didn't think it was worth the tension it would cause to ask her not to run, but other board members persisted in pushing other people to run and pushing me to follow through on my contacts. However, they were unwilling to tell Rachel how they felt, and I was unwilling to get in the middle of it. Unsurprisingly, however, especially given her insecure disposition, Rachel detected the reservations board members had about her candidacy and confronted one of the board members who had been recruiting other candidates. The board member responded by trying to explain to Rachel the concerns that various board members had about her, which of course only made Rachel more upset. In the end, I, and our Board President, ended up having to do what we should have done in the first place, having an honest conversation with Rachel about what she had done well in the past year, what had been hard for her, how that had been hard for us, and openly asking if she really felt continuing would be a good idea. We should have stressed the things we felt she did well, and been creating about articulating roles she might take in the community that would fit her better, make her happier, and be more helpful for the rest of the community. It was a testament to our community and our skills as organizers that we were able to do that in the end, and Rachel was not upset when she was finally defeated in the election. But we shoud have trusted Rachel, ourselves, and our community to have that conversation in the first place. It reminded me that a little bit of honest tension is better than a whole lot of hidden drama, as hidden drama will always explode.

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