“A House Divided”By
Abraham Lincoln, arguably the most important American President, once proclaimed, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” What Lincoln, Ford, and many other historical leaders have alluded to, is the fact that unity must remain the primary focus of a successful organization. For far to many young organizations, this vital lesson remains invisible -hidden beneath the shadow of other concerns. An incredible roster of private companies, political parties, rock bands and yes, local organizations, have faltered for lack of this essential perspective.
It is almost instinctive for an organization to focus on things like growth, financial success, or individual objectives, over the quality of the group’s working relationship. Most often, however, this will result in “Death by Frustration“. Their collaborative effort, even when powerfully successful, ultimately becomes unsustainable due to the high-maintenance costs of in-fighting and fractured egos.
Timothy Shoemaker is a speaker, writer and educator from New Jersey.
One of the most prominent examples of this played out in the waning days of the Revolutionary War. It was 1781, and though they didn’t know it, the Continental Army was just months away from victory. Six regiments of weary soldiers were quartered at Jockey Hollow in New Jersey. Their efforts had left them tired, success seemed elusive, and the conditions of war had depleted their morale. On January 1st, several thousand of these disenfranchised soldiers mutinied. Their ranks were defeated, from the inside out.
Captain Adam Bettin was one of the innocent men that died on that day. He was not killed because he was an abusive or brutal man. Nor, however, was he killed by accident. He lost his life because he tried desperately to maintain control over an organization that was self-destructing. Ironically, the mutineer’s plan was not to abandon the cause, and their anger was not directed at their commanding officers. Even though they had mutinied against the organization that had brought them together, they had no intent on abandoning it. Unfortunately, group morale had suffered to such an extent that a few disenfranchised members were able to fracture the bonds once tying the group to the group’s purpose. Without this nexus, failure became inevitable.
“To change the future, your group has to be part of it.”
The message left to us, many of whom have been joined together by goals or similar ideologies, is to foster a partnership that is capable of supporting long-term, naturally sustainable, collective effort. The fact is, very few things of importance can be accomplished without the unity and collaboration of like minds. Real progress can only be achieved under the power of sustained effort, consistently applied over time. Without careful direction, it is a natural tendency for organized groups of people to forfeit these greater pursuits in favor of short-term agendas or petty differences amongst individuals. The challenge for leaders, for organizers, is to foster unity as both a precursor and close companion to forward momentum.
Luckily, unity can be fostered in part by forward momentum. The trick, though, is not to mistake short-term success as evidence of a healthy partnership. You’ve got to judge your successes by their effect upon the team. Likewise, you must evaluate your team members, not simply by their effectiveness, but by their net effect upon the team. Did that fundraiser bring you closer, or leave a bitter taste? Was your group left energized, or exhausted? Were your members left feeling more qualified, or more petrified of working together? If you’re purpose is short-term, you can get by with just pointing a few energetic people in the right direction. But if your task will take more than a quick sprint to accomplish, you’ve got to pay close attention to the people and partnerships that are developed. To change the future, your group has to be part of it.
This is accomplished in part by intelligent recruitment efforts, in part by a steady stream of ideological reinforcement, and in part by leadership that remains sensitive and responsive to the working relationship of the team members. Make your people know that they are appreciated. Respect their input and keep them informed. Foster their individual development, alongside that of that of the organization. Have the courage and compassion to encourage the departure of those who are happiest when working alone. Believe in your people as if they were the cause itself, because very often, they are just that.
Leave a Comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.