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Policy Governance and Leadership

If you are happy with the way your Congregation is in the world, then there is no need to consider changing governance models. Moreover, under policy governance there is explicit loss of day-to-day operational control by the Board and others. If your lay leadership likes to be in charge of all details of your work, then policy governance is not for you.

Our Congregation also has had a long tradition of strong lay leadership, but we adopted policy governance two years ago. We had gone through a series of short-term (five-year) ministries, and when our "new" ministers were starting their fifth year with no serious storm clouds on the horizon we looked at ourselves. We were not as powerful a voice in the wider community as we wanted. We didn't have the social justice programs we wanted. We weren't attracting new members. We discovered as we looked at ourselves that we had many institutional brakes in place which kept us from going out of control—or from making progress. We tried to figure out how to get better results, and that search lead us to change our governance model.

There was no crisis which lead us to policy governance. In fact, by our standards the seas were placid and we were content. We weren't growing, but we were not shrinking or yelling at each other.

When we looked at what the lay leadership focused on, we noticed that our Board voted on so many things! Our ministers (current and past) were told to charge ahead as prophetic leaders while being tied up in a "mother may I?" set of procedures.

So, we adopted policy governance with the idea that the Board would work with the Congregation on what the organization should be about—it's "ends". And, we would let our executives (two ministers and one executive d irector (a new position)) go and "do." The Board voted to go to policy governance without bylaw changes or a vote of the Congregation. Our internal Board discussions on the switch took over eighteen months, and we held several informational meetings and brainstorming sessions with key leaders when we changed over. However, the Board already had the responsibility under the Bylaws for execution our programs and we simply delegated our duties while still being ultimately responsible.

My personal opinion is that our Unitarian Universalist Congregations are schizophrenic in their desire for a powerful presence in the world while fearing strong leaders. We spin in narrow circles when we can only do activities which appeal to all one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, or "x" hundred of us in the membership. When we each have implied veto power over group initiatives, then it's a guarantee that the group won't do many exciting, bold things.

Policy governance lets the Congregation determine what it wants its spiritual community to do in the world. The Board sets limits in what the executive team can do in order to attain the goals, and the Board and the Congregation need to keep monitoring the organization's progress. However, the Board/lay leadership must let someone else be in charge of the implementation!

Best of luck in deciding if you need or want this type of change.

—Galen Workman, San Francisco, CA, 500 members, 07/28/02

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Monday, June 20, 2011.

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