The following is the forth of all five segments of a debate between presidential candidates Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman and Rev. Peter Morales that took place at Eliot Chapel at the Boston headquarters of the UUA on January 15, 2009.
The full transcript is taken from their site http://www.uua.org/aboutus/governance/elections/president/128768.shtml which also hosts the linked audio versions; the full transcript is also available here.
UUA board secretary Paul Rickter introduced the event explaining that from 33 questions brought up by board members five subjects had been selected for this 90 minute event. (Read his full introduction in the original transcript).
Link to original audio at UUA.org: Administration
Rickter: We’re ready to go onto our next segment which is on administration. And the moderator for this segment will be Jackie Shanti.
Jackie Shanti: Peter and Laurel, you’ve been hanging out with us for a couple of board meetings now and you’ve seen how we struggle with self-care. So I’m just kind of curious how you each imagine allocating your personal time and energy among all the competing priorities that you’re going to be facing in the presidency.
Hallman: Well, this is not a new issue. [laughter] For me this is a significant change. I’m sure all of you know that I’m engaged to be married, and so this is a huge life change, not only the presidency but my personal life too. And so my commitment to my marriage will be a significant, I think, balance as yet unrealized, but I expect that.
I have a spiritual director, and she lives in Nashville. And we talk monthly by phone, and she keeps me focused on to whom I am serving, who it is I am serving and to what end and with practical kinds of ways of keeping me focused if I get off track. I also, you know, I already have a trainer. I work out. I try to keep physically fit. I think that’s important to keeping the stamina in terms of the job. And I expect to create a home here. And I’m putting my house on the market and I’m about to sell it. So I’m creating a life here that I will enjoy and flourish in, I hope, and I’m trying to lay the pieces in it, that I’ve learned over my life, sustain me.
Morales: I’ve spent my entire life working in positions that are enormously challenging and that you could do a hundred hours a week doing. Academia, journalism, for a while running my own business and being a publisher for a large corporation. So it’s something I’m used to doing. The real challenge for me isn’t finding the energy most days. I mean there are some days when you get really tired, but I like to work. I find it energizing.
The real challenge is getting caught up doing stuff that doesn’t matter very much. That’s a constant challenge. And the demands on the presidency — and I’ve watched that up close — are just endless. And the world of electronic communication has made that far worse because you’re inundated with emails, I mean, it’s awful. I mean and you’re excited to go speaking all the time. So the real challenge, I think, is the discipline of sitting down and looking at the internal and external demands and constantly keeping a balance and that eye on putting your best energy at those things that are going to produce real results.
Hallman: Could I ask for a clarification of the question? I heard that as a personal question. Are you also talking about how we would approach the job, the position?
Shanti: I would be happy to hear you expand on that. I think it was, the original question was meant kind of from a personal point of view, but it certainly spills over into how you do the job.
Hallman: Yeah…I would also… we talk a lot about the large rock, small rock. If you’ve heard of, I’m sure everybody here has heard of putting the large rocks in first, and you can get a lot more rocks in if you do that, and then put the small rocks in. And that’s a wonderful metaphor for how one approaches these kinds of jobs. The problem being that there are a lot of small little pebbles just sort of coming at you all the time and some of them in email and some of them in just small…small things. Over time I’ve discovered that you cannot just do the large rocks. You have to figure out how many of the large, medium, small you can do that help move things forward. And I have had the kind of experience with that that I think I can bring into this position. And it’s a triaging, it’s being steady, it’s being clear, it’s a lot of spiritual quality that one has to have for this kind of job which draws me to it. And I don’t always succeed, but I have some skill at that.
Morales: One area that’s very important to me and where I think there is a difference between us as candidates is I hear all the time another area around which there’s broad consensus is that we need to make major changes as an organization. The truth is that most organizations who clearly see that they need to change, to adapt to a new world, whether they’re business or nonprofits or anything else, fail. That’s just the truth. And there’s been a lot of study on why organizations fail. They tend to fail not for technical reasons. If you look at businesses in the same kind of industry and those who, in a changing industry, those who thrive, those who fail tend to have just as well trained staff, just as good at forecasting, just as good at budgeting, all the technical stuff is in place, they fail for emotional reasons. They fail for emotional reasons.
And down the street, John Kotter has created an industry studying this at the Harvard Business School. And this is critical because the role of the President, I believe, is to help create system-wide — not just here at the staff of 25, not just among the Board — but in our larger system of congregations and in our movement, to create and sustain a sense of urgency about the changes we are going to make. Because a lot of those changes that are going to help us thrive have to be made out in the local level. Now, you don’t have a lever here to pull that. So what you can do, though, is create a vision that’s clear, help people see possibilities, and that energizes the change bubbling up from out there. But the President has, and not the only person, for sure, but has a critical role in making that happen. And that would be a top priority for me.
Shanti: Could you be specific about some of the changes that you might envision making in administration or the UUA as President?
Hallman: Oh, if that’s a different question, I want to speak to what he has just said, if I could.
Hallman: And that is that I don’t believe –
Morales: Good. It will buy me some time, too. [laughter]
Hallman: OK. I’ll try to do that. I don’t believe urgency is a leadership skill and I believe that helping people, the vision is, the helping people clarify what is appropriate and not appropriate in these times and for the future. There are a lot of skills that are very important for the President, but I do not see urgency as a leadership skill.
Morales: Let me respond to that. The skill isn’t urgency. The skill –
Hallman: I said creating urgency.
Morales: … is helping to communicate a vision that is compelling and so compelling that it invites action and creates a healthy, urgency is not panic. Urgency is that sense that we need to change, we can do this, and we have to do it now. And that, I think, in our wider movement, and it’s a legitimate difference, I believe that that has been lacking and that that goes a long way to explaining our inability to respond to the changes around us. And it explains why, well, I’ll leave it at why we don’t manage to adjust in terms of ministry, in terms of congregational growth, because that sense of urgency, again, which is not panic but that sense of ‘we have to get on this and we have to get on it now. And it’s doable and this is how we’re going to do it.’
Hallman: I think you’ve changed your definition, but I think that the clarity of vision and engaging people in alignment and saying that we are moving in this direction and we have some ends that we’re moving toward and we know we’re not going to do outside this area, we’re going to be focused — if that’s what you mean by urgency that’s a different kind of thing. I haven’t heard that from you before.
Morales: Well, I’m not talking about going around panicking. Because that’s of no help to anyone.
Hallman: That’s right.
Morales: But don’t lose –
Hallman: I think your phrase was relentless urgency, and that worries me.
Morales: I think one of the key mistakes that organizations make, as they’ve been studied exhaustively, is they create a sense of urgency temporarily. They convince people that they need a change, they put all together all this plan, they do all this rollout, they get the message out and two months later it’s gone. And what happens is we all return to our habits because we don’t change our behavior until we’re emotionally engaged. That’s what I’m talking about. And that’s what has to happen whether you’re Dow Chemical or the UUA.
Shanti: Returning to this idea of change, and if you’re going to create this sense, or respond to this sense of urgency, in doing that, and go back to the other part of the question which is how you might then institute some change within the administration or the UUA in order to go out and do the work that you want to do. What kind of changes do you imagine?
Morales: This is, the UUA, while it’s not a huge, is a large enough organization that it will require a team effort around this. So one of the things that is essential is a leadership team that is put together by clearly choosing people who have a track record of seeing opportunity and implementing change in the organizations that they’ve been in, whether it’s a church or some other organization, and then that team works together very effectively. But it cannot be like the President’s job to do this because it has to exist in ministry and professional leadership, it has to exist in religious education and they’d be marching to the same drum. It has to be in district services.
A quick example: One of the first things I did, as director of district services, was try to shift, in the very first big meeting that we had, the training around stuff dealing with conflict resolution to dealing with how to be a catalyst for change out there. And we brought in Roy Oswald and talked about triaging, about focusing on those places where there’s real opportunity in those congregations and a bunch of skills about how to assess that and how to move in so that you do some very practical things with that sense. And it’s working with staff to create expectations about ‘this is the job,’ and also working with the District President’s Association and the staff to create a new way of doing evaluation of staff, which was based around staff goals that are consistent with district and UUA policy, and then evaluating their accomplishment of that. So that’s how you get it where the rubber meets the road.
Hallman: The biggest change that I would want to implement, and it does involve the Board, is some strategic planning. I don’t think any of us on the staff or in the Board are planning far enough ahead. Sometimes it’s a year ahead or two years ahead. We were talking about, today, talking about five years ahead, but there needs to be some very clear points in the sand ten years out and some moving toward that direction. Now, we’re going to change things as we go but we’ve got to know exactly where the culture will be. And we can get that information, demographic and otherwise. And then how we want to get to that point.
I’ve had the experience of being here and seeing what’s there and realizing that what’s right before us in the coming year will have to be changed dramatically, especially in terms of infrastructure. I think this is exactly what we’re doing now. And we’ve already started here. I think this is a good thing. But communication, infrastructure, how we get what we’re doing here out to the churches and how we get the feedback back are going to be huge changes in the system which will, I think, enliven us and vitalize our movement.
Shanti: You both have identified your roles as CEO. And I’m wondering, are you intending to work in that role alone or with an executive team, an identified team? And another part of that question would be also your plans in terms of executive vice presidency. Do you intend to employ someone in that position and, if so, what would that role be?
Hallman: I would definitely want an executive vice president. And that’s part of the team now. As CEO, I’d draw this picture where we have communication between the Board and the President, that’s very clear. As a collaborative leader, I would have a team, but I would also be in charge. That’s been my experience, that’s what I’ve done and that’s what’s always worked for me. That way I don’t see myself as the decision-maker just by myself. On the other hand, everybody is clear who is responsible, and that makes a huge amount of difference. So I would want an executive team and I’d want to be the CEO and I would want to be the person at the table with the Board and I would want to be in charge.
Morales: We should not confound accountability structure in management practice. And the question, I think, can be read that way. One of the things that troubles me in institutions I’ve seen, that have a team, executive team is that, in fact, de facto, that team is not a group of equals. There is someone who is heading that team. So on this one, actually, we agree. I would want to be the CEO, and that’s the way I have worked a great deal of my life. And if one were to look at my track record in government and in publishing and right now in my own congregation, I am relentlessly collaborative. I mean, I make sure that everyone who has a stake in a decision, gets input into it. I seek consensus. I also try to make sure that people who don’t belong at the table don’t have to suffer through meetings where they have nothing, where they don’t have a dog in that fight, because I’ve spent too many of my own hours doing that. But you make much better decisions when they’re collaborative. It’s a matter of input, but accountability is about, I think, the CEO being held accountable. The executive vice president, yeah, especially given how much of the presidency has been, and I think will be and needs to be, dealing with the external. The UUA needs in the corporate world what would be called a chief operating officer.
Hallman: I would want to COO, to clarify that as well. And collaboration has, I just want to also be very clear about the fact, that collaboration isn’t necessarily consensus. We have a strange understanding of consensus, I believe, which is not, we take it from the Quakers but we don’t take their whole spiritual and their disciplined way of going about it. And so I want to make sure that we don’t, that you don’t hear that I’m saying that we need consensus or that everybody has to have a voice and kind of thumbprint everything. We tend to do that, too. We want to be efficient about that process and make decisions when decisions just need to be made and we don’t need to go through the loops of getting everybody’s thumbprint.
Rickter: OK. I think we’re finished with this segment. So thank you, Jackie.