Reading Robert Caro's brilliant and most recent work on the history of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, I was struck by the following quote so apt to the last six years of JFNA -- more than one-half of the organization's lifetime: "...although the cliche says that power always corrupts, but what is equally true is that power always reveals..." We granted the last two sets of JFNA Chairs unfettered power and these are among the things we learned (or should have):
- When organizational Chairs and their CEOs preempt the Owners needs for their own half-baked agendas, the organization will inevitably fail;
- The Chairs (and chief professional officers) of the federation-owned umbrella organization must be students of and immersed in the guiding principles and values of federation, otherwise the bus they have been delegated to drive will be heading off a cliff. Parachuting into absolute leadership those who may have been immersed in, e.g., JFNA but not federation is a destructive practice; and
- Before their election, future organizational Chairs must be measured by a clear understanding of the organization's goals, not their own; by their embrace of the organization's Mission, not their own; and by their tolerance for debate and, even, disagreement as measured by their past experiences and actions.
A great statesman opined last month as follows: "At those times when you're absolutely sure you're right, talk with someone who disagrees. And if you constantly find yourself in the company of those who say 'Amen' to everything that you say, find other company." JFNA's current and immediate past leaders consistently sought out only those who always agreed with them...and that's ALWAYS. If you disagreed you were "not on our team," "can't be trusted" and you were tossed from the team bus to the pavement...or worse. These "leaders" wanted only mirrors that reflected their own brilliance as their "teammates" -- they got them and the consequences for the organization are self-evident.
An advisor to one of the most powerful government leaders once stated what seems so obvious a fatal flaw in our JFNA leaders over the last six years: "(She) would refuse to hear any facts which conflicted with (her) 'reaiity,' to listen to anyone who disagreed with (her)." And, so personally flawed, our leaders over the last six years transferred their very personal fatal flaws to the institution they were chosen to lead. These "leaders" somehow believe that no debate is far better than any debate; thus, the promotion of the most sycophantic over any others, and, thus, any possibility of real engagement is lost.
JFNA was "blessed" with a "perfect storm" for the past three of the past six years -- lay and professional leaders who listened to the sound of their own voices. Who let no criticism penetrate unless from a Large City and, then, best a Large City Executive. This was no way to run any organization. And the results are self-evident.
That's why the independent actions of the JFNA Nominating Committee were so refreshing -- delivering the hope that new Chairs, ones not beholden to this sorry leadership, can and will strike out in new and responsible directions, absent vendettas and open to contrary opinions.
Let us pray.