June 2010 Archives

The Art of Stepping Down.

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Some thought on quitting, volunteer arrogance and Peter's Principle.

I recently quit my position as member of the national IPP committee. It may have been just a minor position, but it reminded me that often, CISVers don't seem to get it right, when leaving "office".

In the past years, I've had to witness many CISVers who left their position in the organization in a way, that was unfortunate in a range of different ways. Of course, it's great if somebody donates free time to the cause of CISV, by being a national board member or a local committee chair, but doing the tasks right during the time in office is maybe just as important in getting the transition right. Here's a list of things that I think people should consider, that take over a position in CISV:

  • Be clear with yourself and transparent with everybody else, how long you want to do the job. This will make it easier on everybody to plan ahead, and approach people, who can follow your position
  • From the first day on, keep your eyes open for somebody, who will take over your job. Be open for different working and leadership styles!
  • Look out for other people in your team, and how long they will stay on the job - try and avoid stepping down at the same point in time.
  • Try and organize your documents and knowledge in a way, that somebody else will find everything necessary, once he or she takes over.
  • Reserve some time for transition - the day that the new person comes into office, is not your last day of work - remain available for another year or so.
Quite often, CISVers who have done a good job in their position, will be asked to take over another position: Chapter presidents are asked to become national presidents, trustees are asked to become IEC-members. But the fact that somebody is good at one job doesn't mean he is good at another: A great, hard-working well-organized committee member may not be apt to being the committee chair, that requires team-leading and political skills. The question „is this job right for me?" is what you will have to ask yourself before starting on a new job in your CISV career. (The notion that "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence" is referred to as the „Peter Principle" - check out Wikipedia).
People often have something I'd like to call „volunteer arrogance": When things change in their life (new job, new girl-friend, etc), they are likely to drop their volunteer responsibilities without much hindsight, thinking, hey, everybody should be thankful, that I did the job anyway, there's no need form me to take special care - yet underestimating the damage done by stepping down from one day to another. In fact, finding a replacement volunteer is often far more difficult than filling a paid position in a company.

In my case, I think I could have been more transparent earlier about my intentions to quit, and I also should have been more consequent, earlier: I hadn't really contributed to the work done in the Geman IPP committee for more than a year.  


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Here's another animated talk from the RSA where Dan Pink talks about what motivates us to do stuff. It's an absolute must-see, because some important conclusions can be drawn that heavily affect how we run a volunteer organisation. If you believe in the stuff he says, you'll have to drop the concept of "pay-lunteering" entirely and "hackathon"-typ work models is the way to go. I even believe, Pink implicitly explains, why the phenomenon  "volunteer organization CISV" works at all...

The Grim Reaper.

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"Death" should be added to the list of themes.

About two years ago a huge exhibition was hosted in Hamburg's biggest art museum, Die Kunsthalle, displaying paintings by Caspar David Friedrich. CDF, like many other Romantic painters has a fascination with death. They loved to paint things such as graveyards, skulls and tombstones.


Working in a hospital makes "death" a common issue in my daily work life, especially in the intensive care unit: How far should we go? How bad a life is worth living? How would the patient have liked to die? On the other hand, I find it shocking how little it is present in our normal life. We all know, our time is limited. We all know that the average life expectancy in the developed world is around 80 years, yet we are surprised, shocked, disturbed when somebody does happen to buy the farm at that age.

In a world dominated by youthfulness, there's a need to look at the other end of the life cycle.

The theme combines personal, political, ideological, religious and philosophic questions. And can be stretched into directions such as:
- Capital punishment - right or wrong?
- Euthanasia - right or wrong?
- How would you like to die? Young, old, fast, slow?
- Suicide - is it a last resort, an act of aggression or simply a lethal psychiatric disorder?

Culture of time.

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Check out this fascinating animated talk* by Philip Zimbardo on how time perspective is different between cultures, cities and individuals. I think it fits quite nicely into our Year of Diversity.

*a scandal: it's not from TED!

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