Small radical organisations are known for eating their leadership. For some this is reflex; raised in ill-proportioned hierarchies, we are suspicious of anything that smells of authoritative mandates and over-enthusiastic decrees. Others play along to the point of absurdity, loyally playing team even when one’s contribution ceases to factor into anything but another frustratingly avoidable cul de sac.
The view from the top is equally hampered by ingrained myopia: leadership having been drummed into one through all sorts of childhood admonitions and fictional role-models, one easily wishes that increased sensations of assuming responsibility should be rewarded with greater experience of determining outcomes; alas, this is not necessarily the case. There can be many a twist along the way.
Much of this is perspective. The closer one stands to daily decisions, the more self-evident choices seem, while those on the periphery can claim to see the grand lines and symbolic significance. The by-product of both stances is impatience. Leadership wants action by the membership; the observers want miracles.
Social change activist organisations may be the worst; predicated upon making the world different, membership can be less tolerant of real or perceived indications of differing shades of radicalism. Too much realpolitik reads as accommodation to the system and provokes bitter scorn from the rank and file.
The main culprit for this compatibility fail is a listening deficiency – some people just cannot master the art, and in our e-correspondence communication network we needn't ever be in the same room. Augmented by the fact that for the majority correspondence occurs in people’s secondary language, our capacity to read beyond the articulated text and grasp the humanity behind the intention is tragically diminished. – (in Noemi's letter last week announcing that ER3 the company that had a year previous already forked from ER2 the community, now has designs on forking from unMonastery1 the organisation to form unMonastery2 the social enterprise, she links a low point in ER1&3 history and a correspondence where Sam Muirhead tries to gently talk Alberto down from expressing his raging frustration – it is a loving but stern demand from the floor. That the demand for perfect, non-emotionally charged leadership is clearly utopian, is another matter.)
The unMonastery has not been particularly kind to those willing to show leadership. Edgeryding implied something else than falling into step with head office -- that a core group of unpaid believers still pursues refinements of the unMon operating system over three years into the work may be equally a testament to stubbornness as to the deep love of the mission statement. While others couldn't stand the intense warmth...
UnAbbott x 4
The Matera prototype started up seemingly flat structure: six people came through the doors with equally valued skills and subject to no external determinations. Those who'd spent a longer time contemplating the prospects bowed to the newbies, we would all begin at square one. Behind the scenes this wasn't a completely accurate picture: a chain of command had been established. One person was paid a bonus of 250% of the lay member's pocket money in recognition of additional administrative responsibility. If this had been mentioned sometime somewhere, it was hardly underlined: equality was highly valued; no one had any need to pull rank. Problems arose however when this additional responsibility became interpreted to imply greater responsiveness further up the 'chain of concern'. Externally, it was presumably presumed that the workers should operate in a recognisable hierarchy. This invisible presumed prejudice would inevitably collide with another loyalty felt by our nominal leader to the rank and file with whom he lived and breathed; patience could gradually be skewered for less.
It is written that support for the leadership in the field is a key adage in project management. This hasn't always been followed-- the field leadership in Matera was drastically undercut during at least one infamous meeting that exploited impatience to dismantle a carefully constructed operating system. It cost us a vital force in Cristiano Siri whose efforts as something akin to program coordinator had given us much early drive. Similarly, our unofficial, nominal leader was subject to much disdain and criticism. From above weighty demands were posted, from below acute disappointment repeatedly exerted inhuman pressure. Than Ben still exists at all as an active force perhaps bears witness to an acute sense of injustice that has refused to buckle beneath machinations that have surrounded his efforts. That he he at times has resorted to perceivable petulance, self-imposed coma, and crisis maximising may not be a character flaw.
Malcontentedness is not always done elegantly. Our manifestation as ungrateful children was subject of one of the Matera unMonastery scribe's many posts; in a report to Rosella, late April 2014, it was put thusly:
“Our greatest impatience we reserved for our ‘parents’ – our sponsoring bodies here on earth whose efforts through the months hadn’t quite got us the roof over our heads that ‘everybody else had’. When the invoice showed up that showed that the mattresses upon which we were to lay our weary heads likely came six days late because they weren’t ordered until the day before our scheduled arrival, we may have been a tad ungrateful. National stereotypes were no doubt muttered. Arms were reported waved.
In the face of unilateral paternalism, we temper tantrumed. When the kids wouldn’t tidy up for guests, or if we asked too many pointed questions, we were sent to our rooms and ignored. When these rooms proved mouldy and unheated, we hammered on the wall in a cloud of name calling. Refusing to eat our dinner, not getting out of bed and inappropriate language were all indulged in.
Behaving like naughty children, we became treated as naughty children. In a fit of adolescent hubris we declared independence, and psychically moved beyond the range of parental influence at first opportunity. When it proved the case that we sorely missed human contact, we felt heartlessly deserted by our mothers…” no complaining policy
Discontent has not only been directed at fellow field workers, also the previous leadership of ER was subject to a lack of support. That forces engineered a split with ER1 ( Council of Europe) has never seemed a wise strategic move. That this impulse continued to split off EdgeRyders3 (lbg) – the Company from ER2 the community membership network reflect several layers of impatience and betrayal. There is little need to make this a tradition.
The initial unMonastery 'unAbbott' has always been Alberto: it is unclear whether it was his original impulse that was discretely leaked into the mix of LOTE#1 to start us all off. When confronted with his de facto leadership by me some years later on a pre-Matera group call, he baulked: 'he couldn't take the vows of poverty'. That he promptly climbed out of that hangout to produce a pivotal unMon document on the Benedictine tradition is perhaps testament to how deeply he felt the calling. The longer version of the Father Cassian interview that sums up the debate in Code/unCode further reveals his itch.
At the same time, a subjective experience of a calling is not everything: in Athens, a version of inappropriate design pattern for leadership appointment and style almost caused the entire mission to sputter out into naught. When the elaborate rituals of growing community trust were compressed into one tiny weekend, one person's willingness to take on dedicated, vision-driven work was converted into knocking through an appointment that would place her dreadfully vulnerable for the chain of failure. Reasserting group mutual support principles helped, but for a while it was rocky going...
Of course, mutual egality doesn't apply painlessly everywhere. In grassroots movements leadership is responsible to its membership; any attempts to put one’s personal stamp on proceedings invokes a potential collision. When two perceived strands of leadership have differing priorities an organisation requires more clever devices than purely divide and multiply. ER2 and ER3, unMon and the proposed extension of unMon under the auspices of ER3 would all be better off if the premise behind leading organisations dedicated to promoting social cohesion (ER1) was researched with more acuity. The suggestion that this division is the way of the world and that negotiating agreement a waste of time was aired on the post with the conclusion boiling down to childishness Law of Two Feet' ) - where @Trythis, Cottica and Davies debate whether ER should function with Minority Protection or Minority Treasuring Features.
The disappointment felt by our three (four) unAbbotts is palpable – let down by the people they sought to lead, the cost in perhaps every case was questionable choices in their own commitment management. Some threw in the towel, others sagged, some worked more head-strongly than ever.
Hopefully, the temporary sensation of failure becomes a great spur to future efforts. Recognising the mechanisms that accompany leadership is a key step towards rekindling health in our network. Squeezed between the real needs from below (survival?) and perceived reals needs from above (deliverables), we routinely crush our leadership even as they drive forward into the mere scraps of available clear light ahead.
In Code/unCode, Chronicles of the unRuly Volume One, the exploration of the unMonastery’s attempt to mirror traditional monasticism published by the ‘How to Work Together Think Tank’, visiting theologian Claire Perrault deftly provides her poetic exploration of the role of the unAbbott:
“The charisma of the Abbot is a self-propelling question mark, a fingerprint ink stain unavoidable on every rule written. For a tradition that aspires to reject pride and gluttony as well as material riches, the designation of the Abbott’s role bears the uncomfortable traces of both the introspection of success and social capital. Twofold when it is considered that most rules were also written by an Abbott. The term abbot developed from the first cenobitic rule. Saint Pachomius recognized that administrative tasks were a distraction from monastic practice and so condensed these organization tasks as the duty of one individual. A role he assumed in his own community, leading him to be called Abba, meaning father, the etymological route of Abbot. However this places the Abbott in a liminal position, both inside and outside of the monastic body. A position that through its liminality is unstable, dangerous and powerful. The monastery of Lerins on a small island off the french riviera was known for its incredibly charismatic Abbotts. It was founded by small group of influential political and religious figures from Rome in order for them to live a quiet religious life. However if became something of a vatican satellite producing three bishops and holding an impressive Saintly alumni. Some monastic communities developing their rule at this time bare the stretch marks of retaliation against the cultivation of an abbot as charismatic personality. The Fathers of Jura actively discredited Lerins while The Rules of the Fathers created an alternative system of necessary roles, dispersing the centrifugal force of the Abbott. Bitterly for the aspirations of a horizontal structure of shared power, the Rules of the Fathers did not appear to be very successful, with little expansion or influence. Further still it seems history offers more buoyancy to the charismatic individual, there is little record of either The Fathers of Jura or the Rule of the Fathers.”