The Council self-reflects

The Portland Shambhala Center’s governing Council (Alice Price, Candace Stoughton, Chris Poor, John Smith, Lisa Stanley, Michael McCormick, and Nancy Smith) spent a day in retreat together on August 28th. (Bettina Hetz, the newest member of the Council, couldn’t make it.)  Here is my personal, unsolicited and unauthorized, report (I did ask permission to use the photos).

The Sakyong seems to constantly be reminding us about the importance of self-reflection and that’s what our day was about: stopping for a whole day and asking ourselves what we’re doing and how it’s going.  Bottom line is: it’s going amazingly well and yet we sure do have a lot to do.

Michael-says-my-plate-is-fullAs Michael McCormick, the Director of Practice and Study said early in the day, “The Shambhala Center is caught between opposing forces: we are primarily a volunteer organization run by people with limited amounts of time. And at the same time our standards and expectations of ourselves seem to rise and rise, to be more professional, every day.” Michael observed that learning how to say “No” to each other, that we are over-committed, and that our plates are too full, while not loosing the vision, is a real challenge. Center Director Lisa Stanley quoted the Sakyong Wangmo’s brother, who said at a leadership gathering recently that, “As volunteers we have to be even better (in performing our duties) than people who are paid for such work.”  For a group that is so busy with their lives and their roles at the Shambhala Center, spending a day in retreat was part of the strategy for doing it better.

Jay Stewart, who stepped down from the Council on Shambhala Day last February after a two year term, facilitated the day.  She and Lisa Stanley had spent a lot of time thinking through the day’s agenda.  In retrospect it’s remarkable how closely we stayed to their plan, even though one of the topics we discussed was having to plow through long and complex agendas at our meetings.

This past year, our agenda included searching for a new director, choosing a director who had to move across the country, working through the appointment process, and then working through the transition between directors. That we worked through all of that may be the Council’s most significant accomplishment this year.  But as Rusung Chris Poor observed, “We hired a new Center Director, recruited a new director of practice and education, dealt with budgets, and yet everything seemed to go smoothly on the Council. I never left a Council meeting feeling bad, or angry.  Tired, maybe, but not bad or angry.”

As part of the Council’s fiduciary responsibility we wrote into the contract with the new Director that we would do some evaluation after 3 and 6 months.  But picking up on some work that a Shambhala International standing committee on leadership as path had done recently, we decided that “evaluation” couldn’t be a one-way thing.  In fact it had to go both ways, considering how all of us on the Council are working together: both “how is the Director doing” and “how are we as a Council doing, especially in providing support for the Director.”  The day’s agenda ended up as an expression of that commitment to reflect on how things are going all around. So we wrote reflection into the contract, if you will, not only with the new director but with ourselves (not to mention with the Sakyong).

jay-stewart-facilitating-council-retreatAt one point in the day, we asked Jay for her feedback on how she thought the day was going and on what she saw in the Council as a working governance body.  Here are the notes that I took from Jay’s comments:

  • From a facilitator’s perspective the feedback and struggles I see today feel normal.  I feel well-supported as a facilitator (I’m enough a part of the group to not have to hang out as a separate entity).
  • You should not worry about people not expressing their own truth / perspective at any given moment.  It will come out sooner or later when the time is right.
  • As a former council member, the idea that the agenda is just too full feels very familiar; getting through agenda feels great when it happens; like others, often I just want to accomplish things and go home right away.
  • I feel more trust among Council members, you are deepening your communication with each other, and you seem to be deepening the process of governance.
  • Your process feels more collaborative and collective today than it used to be.
  • It definitely feel like people are showing up at the Center.  All of us are pulling more of our weight.
At the end of the day we all felt like we needed to self-reflect and really talk to each other more often.  But when to schedule it?

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