There are two types of people who try to improve organizations from the outside of hierarchies. Those who volunteer and those who are asked for their help. As to volunteers, if you think the pure mass of blog commenters is overwhelming (think how many people make a suggestion or have comments that are ignored on T&C or BCC), any large organization has such a crescendo of people with ideas that the flood of ideas tends to merge into a huge wall of static from the organization’s perspective. Not to say that every outside voice is not heard.
Which is what this post is about.
If only one out of a hundred members makes one suggestion a year, with a million people in an organization that is ten thousand suggestions a year to filter through. But, if you have an insight so blinding, penetrating and superior, clear and commanding that it deserves consideration, how do you get an organization to recognize your transcendent virtue over those that are already inside the hierarchy?
That is the real question, isn’t it? The real answer is found by looking at what works and what doesn’t work. One voice in the static doesn’t work. Joining a choir of second rate professionals and forming your own chattering class does not work. It happens all the time, mind you, but it doesn’t work. So, what does?
- Work your way up the hierarchy by superior and diligent service. I’ve watched my wife do that to rise to statewide office (and to being invited to take statewide office) in professional and auxiliary organizations. Do that and you will have a voice in the organization and in ones that are close to it. The Catholic Bishop of Salt Lake gets listened to by the Catholic Archbishop when he calls because he has worked his way up the organization’s ladder.
- Work your way up a parallel group. Why do young men’s leaders listen to Boy Scouts? Why does a Cardinal get listened to by LDS General Authorities? Olympia Snow, a Republican, is being listened to by Democrats.
- Develop an area of recognized excellence and skill in an area that has some intersection. When the group needs help in that area, they are likely to listen to you.
Consider, (1), Thomas S. Monson worked his way up. People listen to his input. The same is true of Boyd K. Packer. The LDS community listens to them because they have worked their way up.
Consider, (2), a number of successful LDS members have succeeded in related areas and are now listened to (e.g. FARMS/J. Welch). Kathy Pullins was successful as a member of the BYU law school faculty and was listened to and put in charge of the BYU Womens Conference.
Consider, (3), the BYU pysch department faculty members whose input was sought concerning a Brazilian trangendered member who was ordained as a result. Or Hugh Nibley and the Manti temple lectures. More prosaically, Don Norton and editing.
What are the limits? If I’m an expert on children’s music that doesn’t mean I am likely to be asked about legal responses to Canadian tax issues. Rule One: Stick within your area. Do not over reach. Don Norton, for example, never offered any input into what he edited or into anything else.
If I am a public critic, or a member of a chorus, I should not expect to be mistaken for a friend or seen as having a separate voice from the chorus. Rule Two: Be aware of culture rules. In LDS circles that means keep confidences, do not engage in public disagreements, do not claim authority where you do not have it.
If I am not somewhat holy, I should not expect those who are to fail to notice the lack. Rule Three: pay attention to and nourish your spiritual state, the same way you would shower regularly.
If I am ignorant of the context of an issue, I should expect to be seen as ignorant. Rule Four: whatever the issue, anyone who wishes input needs to be aware of organizational history, context and the structure of the discussion at multiple levels.
If I am not rendering service, I should expect to be seen as self serving. Rule Five: those with a history of sacrifice and service are seen as more likely to be seeking God’s will rather than their own. Everyone knows people with histories of selfless service. Everyone knows people who resemble egos with legs. Which voice are you going to respect and listen to more?
I really hesitated to share this post. Of course Christ gave a similar lecture when he told his disciples that the leaders should be the servants of all. As should each and every one of us.