Leadership Transition FAQs (for 2020 leadership transition)
Kate’s last day will be May 31, 2020. Ideally, the Ethical Society will have a Senior Leader ready to begin
at that time.
At the Leader Transition Town Hall there was confusion regarding the bylaws language regarding voting. The Governance Committee examined the bylaws and reviewed the Society’s voting procedures going back to 2005. The bylaws require the participation of 10% of the active membership to have a meeting where voting occurs. The voting precedent is clear: two-thirds of ballots cast (both in person and absentee) by active members are required to hire a Leader.
Under the Society’s governance structure, the Senior Leader position technically is called the “Ministry Team Leader,” or MTL for short. The MTL is the individual fully responsible for overseeing the programming and congregational needs of the Society. Knowing that the Society would conduct a future search for an additional Leader, the Board anticipated that many members would be confused by all the different Leader titles and the reporting structure, and the Board wished to make the language and hierarchy as clear as possible for the membership. For these purposes, “Senior Leader” is synonymous with Ministry Team Leader.
In the 2019-20 year, Kate would mentor James regarding the ins-and-outs of being the Senior Leader of the Ethical Society, and he most likely would take on additional responsibilities throughout the coming year. The Board would negotiate a one-to-three year contract with him. Over the summer of 2019, the Board, in consultation with Kate and James, would write a job description for another Leader, then the Society would constitute a Search Committee for a second Leader, conduct a search, and plan to put the candidate up for member approval by late spring 2020.
Over the summer of 2019, the Board, in consultation with Kate and James, will write a job description for a Senior Leader; the Society would constitute a Search Committee for a Senior Leader, conduct a search, and plan to have a Leader candidate for member approval by late spring 2020. This would likely mean the second Leader position would not be filled until the following year. Aside from these steps, there are many unknowns with this scenario and we cannot say with certainty what would happen. That said, we can speculate that this would be a much harder road for the Society to take: it would necessitate a difficult, more involved, and more costly search (possibly for two Leaders instead of just one); it would mean many large changes in a small amount of time for our community, making it harder to have a smooth transition through Kate’s departure; and it would put a significant strain on our volunteers and staff as they try to continue the Society’s work through a difficult time.
While James Croft has been a Leader, the Saint Louis Society has significantly expanded its outreach to the wider community, and the Ethical Humanist message has a much broader reach. The Platform presentations are consistently solid, the Society’s programming is more wide-ranging, and our members and visitors are from a younger and more diverse demographic. He’s also incredibly charismatic, an effective communicator, and a thoughtful and passionate individual. The Outreach Director job description is typically what a Senior Leader should be doing—serving as the outward face of the congregation and spreading our Ethical Humanist message in the wider community. James is nationally recognized within the broader humanist movement and, quoting Kate, “there’s no one in humanism, let alone Ethical Humanism, right now with James’ talent and drive and heart. If anyone can take St. Louis to the next level, it’s him.” These factors plus the ones detailed in the next question were the deciding reasons to recommend James for the Senior Leader position.
The Board did seriously consider an open search, but decided after ample research that this would not be the best course for the Society. The Board’s inquiries determined that James Croft is by far the best and most qualified candidate of those who are currently AEU certified leaders. James is already well-known and greatly respected in Ethical Humanism and within humanism more broadly, so other possible candidates would not be interested in applying for a position that they assume would be eventually offered to him. Additionally, there is a big difference between having an intern apply for an open position versus having a Leader who has been ably serving for several years apply for an open Senior Leader position. In consulting with other Leaders and those who understand congregational dynamics, it became clear that holding an open search would be damaging to the congregation. In the unlikely chance that another candidate were chosen instead of James, many members would be extremely upset and possibly leave the Society, the new Senior Leader would have a very hard time being accepted, and James might likely pursue opportunities for growth, challenge, and advancement elsewhere. All of these potential risks would be very disruptive to the Society. Conducting a search would also be a waste of time, effort, and money since we already had the best candidate in-house. Due to these factors and the Board believing him to be the best candidate, the Board chose to recommend James for a member vote rather than doing an open search.
The current Ministry Team Leader job description was written in consultation with Kate and, in many ways, the two Leaders have divided the responsibilities to best match their talents and skill sets. The Board anticipates using a similar approach with new Senior Leadership. In consultation with James, and with recommendations from Kate, the Board would craft a Senior Leader job description that works with James’s strengths and meets the needs of the Society. The Board would then craft a second job description for a second Leader to support James in running the Society. Ideally, the two Leaders will have complementary skill sets so that the two Leaders can optimally meet the full needs of the Society congregation.
The Board surveyed the membership and staff this year to evaluate the two-Leader model. This evaluation led to a report that is available for everyone to review (see Board minutes from February 2019). Overwhelmingly, the Society congregation and staff preferred having two Leaders.
Yes, the Society can afford two Leaders. The Society’s income has increased over the past five years and the Society has about $100,000 in reserve to supplement the budget in maintaining the two-Leaders model.
Every member will have the opportunity to share thoughts and opinions during the Leader search. Additionally, the Leader Search Task Force will need active members who are passionate about the Society, willing to work hard for its future, and dedicated to the process of a search. The task force will begin its work in late summer or early fall 2019. If you have interest in being on the Leader Search Task Force and have the time and energy to devote to its success, please reach out to Amanda Verbeck to indicate your interest.
The Board welcomes your questions and comments and you can contact any Trustee to share them. You can ask questions during Coffee Hour with the Board on Sunday, May 5. There is limited time during the Annual Meeting itself to discuss this matter; please ask and get your questions answered before the Annual Meeting on Thursday, May 16.