When friendship and leadership collide


I have been saddened to see the continued support from prominent leaders for a protestant pastor who failed to protect children who were sexully abused. His failure to lead by reporting this predator (and maybe others) to authorities led to more children being sexually abused in other parts of the country. His actions and inactions have destroyed many lives.

Yet, his well respected friends in leadership positions say he is being maligned and falsely accused. With court testimony and written testimony from dozens of witnesses you would think they couldn’t really be saying this, but they are. This is leadership malpractice.

I have wondered why they are doing this, themselves failing to do the right thing. I think it comes down to this: he seems like a nice guy and he’s their friend. They’ll make sure he has a position and that his books get published. “We’re here for you buddy.” I feel physically ill as I think about this. I have written to the publisher, but don’t expect a reply.

You can be someone’s friend who has screwed up. You can listen, encourage them to make it right, etc. When a friend has destroyed lives, though, you can’t make those consequences go away be trying to cover-up the cover-up. When someone has disqualified themselves for leadership and ministry, you should not yourself commit leadership malpractice by propping them up. This leads to bitterness, distrust and cynicism by the very people you have a duty to protect and serve. It needs to stop.

Online behaviors can reveal obsessive tendencies


 I sometimes  come across commenters and bloggers on the internet and my training is psychology causes little alarm bells to go off. With commenters people can just “trolls,” but other times there is something else going on. Such is the case with someone who goes by the username “A-Thought.” He joined an Apple news and enthusiasts site about 18 months ago and constantly promotes his Microsoft Surface Pro while criticizing Apple iPads. He has posted hundreds of times, and many of his posts are quite lengthy.

“A-Thought” would insist that his behavior is intellectually based, that he is just serving as a counter-point of information. In reality, most counselors and psychologists would quickly label this behavior “obsessive.” It is obvious he obsessively checks the Apple-centric site and quickly posts derogatory comments about Apple iPads while pointing out the virtues of his Surface Pro 4. He is often the first commenter on news stories that are posted about the Apple iPad.

When someone is dealing with obsessions and compulsions, or both (OCD), it is not a pleasant life. Psychologists describe this disorder as the mind that won’t quit. Activities such as excessively monitoring web sites and posting essentially the same information over and over again help relieve the anxiety that a person experiences. The time and attention given to these obsessions and compulsions usually interfere with the person’s life and relationships.

There are online resources that can help people like “A-thought.” The Anxiety and Depression Association of America is one place to start: http://www.adaa.org.

Why Some Staff and Volunteers in Non-Profit Organizations Start to Obsess over Money

Most people who work or volunteer in non-profit organizations do so because of their interest or commitment to the mission or cause. Some of these people shift their focus to fretting and obsessing over money, talking very little about mission, values or vision. If they do in fact mention these words, it is really as a method to get more money for their chosen organization. Sometimes this shift affects entire organizations and they get into an endless loop of the majority of staff and volunteers chasing after donations. If they stumble upon moving the mission forward, they view it in terms of something they can share with donors to help raise more funds.

How does this happen?

1. A real financial crisis. The organization loses a major donor, membership drops, or the economy goes into recession. People start to wonder if their favorite non-profit will still be around five years from now. You hear phrases like “no money, no mission,” which is actually the opposite of what skilled leaders should be saying. Panic can set in and bad decisions begin to be made. Mission and vision get locked away in the back room, only to be pulled out and shown to donors from time to time.

2. Perceived financial crisis. Professionals who are coming from large companies or organizations are often stunned at the lack of infrastructure and shoestring budgets they see when they get into the non-profit world. They may immediately feel like it has to be “fixed,” that the organization cannot continue to live paycheck to paycheck.

3. Nothing else to measure. Non-profits often struggle to quantify what they do and how they help people. Budget performance is measurable. You can specify net profit or loss, or percentage of growth or decline. Some people naturally gravitate to numbers, so they focus almost entirely on budget. Obviously the need is to develop other methods for measuring impact and effectiveness and insist that these are viewed in the same serious light as the budget statistics.

What’s the downside?

Non-profit organizations have limited people resources with which to accomplish their mission. While the annual report may show 10 or 20% of the organization’s funds going toward fundraising, the reality may be much different. 60 or 70% of staff or volunteer time may be consumed by fundraising tasks such as managing or supporting major events, staying in touch with current and potential donors, etc. These people are often reported as “program staff,” when the reality of their jobs is much different.

If you are on the inside, and wish to stay there, then push internally for metrics that demonstrate mission impact. Listen to what senior leaders are saying and watch out for phrases such as “no money, no mission,” or “that’s nice, but it doesn’t help us meet payroll or pay the rent.” When asked what kind of year they had as an organization, listen to see if the first words have to do with money.

Robert Egger has two great quotes on this issue in his book “Begging for Change:”

“If you chase money, you’ll be on an endless loop. If you chase results, the money will come.”

“The most effective nonprofits find the connection between purpose and effort by identifying the priorities of those they’re serving.”

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

New legislation or new policies that support people with disabilities come around too infrequently.  When they do happen, you will see calls to action that basically say “If you care about people with disabilities support this. Email your elected officials, and send us a donation to help us get this passed.”

The problem is that most people never read the legislation or policy they are asked to support. Not every piece of pro-disability legislation is a good piece of legislation. The latest rallying point is the CRPD, a UN Treaty that President Obama has signed and the Senate is considering for ratification. I will not be writing my congressman, posting on Twitter, or sending anyone a donation to support this.

Two serious problems.

The first issue has to do with the definition “disability.” There isn’t one in the CRPD. We already struggle with limited resources for those who are in the most need of them, and this type of dilution of the idea of disability will not help the situation. Some think it is a good idea to greatly broaden the concept of disability. This may sound good philosophically, but the practical applications will result in reduced services and support for those who could most benefit from them.

The second issue is the idea of the enforcement of disability protections and policies moving to an international body. Today we have the right to hold our elected officials accountable for how they support people with disabilities and their families. Imagine a congressman being able to say that this issue is not something he can influence, you need to call the enforcement office in Switzerland. CRPD heads us in that direction.

Why so much support in the disability community?

Why are so many organizations in support of the CRPD? There are many good aspects of the CRPD, especially related to human dignity and the rights of people with disabilities. It is a large, sweeping worldwide document that attracts support and helps fundraising. Once a few major disability organizations jump on the bandwagon, other groups don’t want to be left out.

It is easy to understand the attraction of the CRPD. I think that too often people with disabilities feel forgotten or pushed to the margins of society. A sweeping international treaty seems like a good way to bring disabilities to the forefront.

In the end good people can disagree about the merits of the CRPD and whether it should be ratified. Some may read and fully understand it and its shortcomings, and decide to advocate for it anyway. The important thing is to carefully consider the merits and drawbacks before making an informed decision.

These are not your parent’s grandparents

Did you (or will you) have mixed emotions about becoming a grandparent? Sure, you cannot wait to hold the baby, but taking on the title of “grandma” is just not all that exciting for you. For some people, the word “grandparent” conjures up an image of a frail, silver haired person in a rocking chair. You could sit on their knee and listen to a story, and they probably had a piece of candy for you. It is time to put that image away, because grandparents of today are quite different!

More Grandparents than Ever Before?

It is quite possible that we have more grandparents than ever before in our country. 73 million people, or one in four adults, are grandparents. By the year 2020 one in three people will be a grandparent. The rate of people becoming grandparents is growing at twice the rate of the overall population. According to Grand magazine, more than 75% of the people over the age of 50 are grandparents. These are staggering statistics.

Active and involved

Grandparents today are not sitting on the front porch waiting for the end to come. They are active, many are still working, and they often have leadership roles in their community. Most are involved in their grandchildren’s lives, seeing them once every week or two.

Let us also not forget that people over 50 control 70% of this nation’s wealth. Grandparents are making or influencing many of the daily spending decisions in our country. MetLife’s Grandparents poll has found that grandparents provide $370 billion annually in financial assistance to grandchildren.

If policymakers overlook grandparents as a vital economic force they are making a huge mistake!

Grandparents to the rescue

Family expert Amy Goyer suggests that grandparents have become a safety net. As adult children struggle with economic and employment issues, grandparents may step in to help with errands, to pay for health insurance, or just to be there to provide a sense of stability during difficult times.

More grandparents than ever before are becoming primary caregivers for their grandchildren. According to latest census information, 5.8 million children now live with their grandparents. In these households the parent may be present, but often is not.

There are costs for caregivers

Raising children the second time around can have financial, physical and social consequences. According to AARP, 19% of the grandparents raising grandchildren are at or below the poverty line. The risk of heart disease in women increases, and caring for a child may isolate the person from others their age.

The good news is that there are resources now to help grandparents who find themselves. AARP has an excellent grandparents resource site. Their site includes GrandFacts, which gives state specific information for grandparents who have become caregivers for their grandchildren.

This article was originally published in Outlook by the Bay: outlookbythebay.com

How to keep 20-somethings from driving you crazy

Published in Outlook by the Bay magazine, January/February issue. http://www.outlookbythebay.com/

Sometimes people forget that a key word in the term “middle-aged” is the word middle, as in “stuck in the middle.” We find ourselves in the middle of various other generations, sometimes living and working with up to four different age groups. On the positive side, this gives us a unique perspective, on the negative side we can be frustrated at how people view themselves and the world.

I find that people in their 20’s are an increasingly important part of my life and work. Those in their 20’s are part of a generation known as the Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000.  The Millennial and Baby Boomer generations are equal in size, and will be the dominant adult group as this century moves forward.

If we understand some of the broad characteristics of the Millennials, it can help us get along with them better, and perhaps reduce our frustration level. We can either balk at these characteristics, or we can use what we know to build better relationships. Building better relationships ultimately allows us to share our experiences and help them take over after we have moved on.

The need for continuous feedback

More than any other group, those in their 20’s want ongoing feedback on how they are doing in work and life. One supervisor sent a newly hired young adult into the archives of a company to pull files that were needed for reference. The person quit because they had worked for four hours straight and no one had checked to let them know how they were doing. The middle-aged supervisor never dreamed this would happen.

They feel a need to be constantly connected

Millennials have grown up constantly connected, especially by cell phones and social media sites like Facebook. Connection to people can be and often is achieved within seconds at anytime day or night. While many of us like to disconnect, disconnection for a millennial can cause feelings of anxiety, if not outright panic. If you doubt this, ask to borrow their cell phone for two or three days and see what kind of reaction you get!

Life and work should be flexible and mobile

A recent study by Cisco found that 56% of recent college graduates would not take a job that did not allow them to access Facebook during work hours. This same study found that 70% of today’s college students think that being in an office on a regular basis is unnecessary. In other words, relating to people, accessing information, and being productive does not require being tied to a desk at work or home. Technology allows communication and work to be done anywhere and any place.

Learning and Hoping

A good characteristic of many Millennials is that they are more hopeful than other generations. Those who are more cynical may suggest that this is because they have not had a lot of life experience yet! Still, staying hopeful despite world conditions is not a bad place to be.

Another characteristic is that Millennials have a love of learning. They already consider themselves lifelong learners. They go into a job expecting it to be a place where they can learn.

We might ask ourselves if Millennials are that different from us, or if the realities of the world they grew up in are different. If we grew up knowing nothing but rapidly improving and easily accessible technology would we not want to have it with us at all times? If we grew up in a world where you know about every news story within minutes of it happening, would we be satisfied with a printed paper that had news that was 24 hours old?

In his book “The Millennials” authors Thom and Jess Rainer write: “For certain we are convinced this generation will make its mark. How will we receive them? How will we channel their ambitions and impatience? How will we work with them in greater service and healthy reconciliation? We better be ready.”



It’s Never too Late for This

From Outlook by the Bay, summer 2011

By Terry Portis

I am never quite sure how to respond when someone tells me, “The time for that has passed me by.” If I agree, is that insulting, questioning the person’s abilities? If I disagree, am I questioning whether or not a person knows their own life? Usually, I just sort of nod, but not too enthusiastically. The truth is that sometimes people give up too soon and too easily. Dreams and ideals that flourished in our 20s are crushed by the next 30 or 40 years of working too hard and too long on things we are not that thrilled by. There are two things in particular I want to focus on that are very often pushed aside in the noise and tumult in our lives. Those are broken relationships and daring to do new things.


We don’t remember when we stopped talking to our friend or family member. At one point we couldn’t imagine going a week or a day without checking in with them. The relation ship meant something, and life was better because that person was in it. Something happened  a disagreement, unkind words, hurt feelings  and the relationship seems lost forever.

David McCullough’s excellent book on the life of John Adams gives some fascinating details on the relation ship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Their ability to work closely together and their mutual respect was known throughout the United States and Europe. Differing ideas about the French Revolution would greatly dam age their relationship. Their published writings on the topic were polar oppo sites, and they publicly criticized each other. This dispute and open criticism led to two decades when they did not speak to each other. It appeared the relationship was over.

At the urging of Benjamin Rush, a physician and fellow co signer of the Declaration of Independence, they began to correspond on a regular basis. They continued to write for 14 years before they both died on the same day in 1826. Rush simply remind ed them that they had shared some remarkable hardships and successes together, and that these were more important than the conflict that had driven them apart.


Three years ago a 76- year- old man decided to fulflll his dream, and climbed Mount Everest. Given the grueling training and the danger involved, this is remarkable. I am sure people told him that the time for climbing Mount Everest had passed him by, and most people would have nodded in agreement.

We have many wonderful examples of people who have done something daring later in life. At 77 an artist by the name of Grandma Moses decided to start painting. At 65 Winston Churchill became prime minister of England and dared to lead his country in a five year fight for its freedom. Albert Schweitzer ran a hospital in Af rica when he was 89, at 82 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe finished writing his famous Faust, and John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space at 77. So, today, the time is ripe to pick up the phone, or a paint brush, because it’s never too late!

Dr. Terry Portis is director of the Center on Aging at Anne Arundel Community College. He holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and can be reached at tdportis.aacc.edu