Friday, January 29, 2010

I hate voting

Yesterday in a meeting of the Freshman Book Selection Committee, we made a final choice for this year's book - it was an exciting time as we chose the one book that all incoming freshmen would read this fall (2010). Now I can't tell you what the book is (the official "unvieling" is set for Tuesday, February 2), but I can tell you about the process - and how I was able to avoid a final "vote" - and why I hate voting.

Having served in a congregation for a long time, I would watch in pain and agony as our voter's assesmbly would discuss an issue, have someone call for a vote, pass out the ballots, go and count them in secret, and then announce the decision. While for most of the time votes were close to unanimous, it was always the big issues...the hot issues...the controversial issues in which the vote would turn out 60% for and 40% against...or even worse, 51% for 49% against. And that would be the end of the discussion. Because we had taken a "democratic" approach to the topic, everyone believed it was the right thing to do and those who "lost" now needed to fall in step. How tragic!

I now have the privilege of sitting in plenary faculty meetings where we use Robert's Rules of Order to run the meeting and make decisions. Did mention I hate voting? I hate Robert's Rules of Order even more. It may be a great method for keeping order in a large assembly - and it may help to move a process along - but it really only serves those who know the rules and are willing to raise their voice in an assembly. Discussion can be cut off at any time by someone who wants to "call the question." And again, when a vote is called for, the majority "wins" - even if it is by one vote (I know, sometimes it calls for a 2/3 vote, but that still creates "winners" and "losers").

So back to my committee (and what this has to do with leadership). We had actually voted the week before, and it came down to two books, and the final vote was 4-3. Clearly there was a "winner," but we all knew that there were strong feelings for the "loser." What were we going to do with that? As a group, we chose to sit on it for a week, come back together and talk some more. Interestingly, we ended up choosing last week's "winner," but we did so in a collegial manner through consensus rather than voting. I cold look at everyone, let them have their say, and know that we were all okay with the decision. It just felt better than a 4-3 vote.

So what does leadership have to do with this? Voting is easy - either you are for or against an idea or subject. Voting creates winners and losers - and the losers almost always will say, "I didn't vote for that, so I really don't care about it." A leader creates a shared vision, in which there cannot be winners and losers....A leader builds team, in which there cannot be winners and losers...A leader builds a sense of community, in which there cannot be winners and losers.

That being said, sometimes the leader needs to make a decision where there is an impasse, and there are many ways to do that. One way is to take a vote, but only when it is agreed by the group that everyone has had their say and that they will abide by the vote. Another way is to make the decision by oneself after having heard everyone's ideas, but only when the group knows that they will not be able to make the decision and trusts you to do that with and for them. Another way is to get someone else in the group to make the decision, but only if that person is a trusted member of the group.

So yes, I hate voting and attempt to avoid it like the plague. I will use it when it is applicable, but it will never become my modus operandi within a given group. I choose consensus, or the wisdom of the group. I choose community, or the building up and affirmation of one another. I choose to take the necessary time to come to a decision, or what some call "wait time." Choosing these things can make a big difference in one's leadership - and more important they can make a big difference in building a sense of community.

1 comment:

gmoore said...

Well said - I'm no fan of voting either. As President of a non-profit board - I always feel uneasy about those close votes - even the ones that go my preferred way. I end up feeling like all we did was focus on the chasm we seemed uable to cross. Consensus is often out of reach - but it does always feel better!

On a quick side note - 'calling the question' doesn't actually stop discussion :)