Leadership 101: Never conduct a poll yourself unless you are confident of the results

The Presiding Bishop’s poll fails to call an emergency House of Bishops meeting in May. But should orthodox Episcopalians and Anglicans be celebrating? We think not.

Here’s the e-mail sent out from the PB’s office at 815 today:

From: HOB
Date: April 16, 2008
Subject: Possible House of Bishops in Meeting

Dear Bishops,

After receiving a large number of responses to our poll regarding the need for a May meeting of the House, we can confirm from the results that there will not be a meeting in May.

For all who were in attendance at Camp Allen, it may be recalled that there was no clear sense from the House at that time that such a meeting would be necessary. This is the reason the poll was suggested.

We will indeed proceed as planned with the post-Lambeth meeting in September in Salt Lake City, and further details about the specific location and registration will be made available at the end of May or beginning of June.

Again, our thanks to all of you who responded to this poll.

The Rev. Canon C. K. Robertson, PhD
Canon to the Presiding Bishop

The Presiding Bishop instituted a formal poll of the members of the House of Bishops to call an emergency meeting to focus on what to do about the Moderator of Common Cause. Today we learned that the poll to do so failed.

Why would the leader of an organization in crisis conduct a poll, unless the leader is confident of its outcome? Anything less is stupidity. Polling a group by a leader feigns democratic deliberation – it’s shrewdly used only when the leader intends the outcome to go her way. We can think of many reasons why a leader would use a polling tactic, but a leader should never poll a group if there is a significant risk that the outcome will not achieve the leader’s goals. Otherwise, the leader should just fold up her tent and go back to the farm because her leadership is kaput. A failed poll that does not produce the results desired by the leader is failed leadership.

But a failed poll is not always a failure.

Again, let’s be very clear here. The only reason a leader would engage in such a risky maneuver of polling is if the leader is confident that the poll will turn out the way she wants.

At first glance, this news today seems to be a blow to the Presiding Bishop.

But before we uncork the champagne, let’s just pause a moment, shall we? As we said before, no leader in their right mind polls a group unless the leader is confident of the outcome. So, let’s just consider – just for fun – whether this failed poll is actually in the Presiding Bishop’s best interest. Let’s consider – if only for a moment – that the failed poll counts as a success for Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Why would a failed poll work for the Presiding Bishop? One reason is that it was used to quell radical voices in the House of Bishops who are outraged at the Bishop of Pittsburgh and want his head. They do not want him to go to Lambeth. They are shining up the silver platter. What is a Presiding Bishop to do?

Well, if the PB agrees with those voices, but knows that there is no canonical way to depose the gentle bishop at this time unless the canons are tossed out the window, then the last thing the PB would do is poll the House and lose control. That would be dumb. But the PB still needs to quell those voices, to encourage patience.

For example, what if the Presiding Bishop also serves on the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council and went to a recent closed-door meeting in London where she was briefed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary to the Anglican Communion?

As we know from the Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, letters are being sent from the Archbishop of Canterbury (as promised in his Advent letter) regarding the invitations of certain bishops now invited to Lambeth. Since the relationship between TEC and the ACC is – shall we say – cozy, it is not highly unlikely that the Presiding Bishop would know nothing about those letters? Would N.T. Wright know about the letters, but the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church would not? Would Rowan Williams really keep her in the dark – especially since they are being sent to diocesan bishops in the Episcopal House of Bishops? The last thing she needs is a rebellion in the ranks from her own allies – a head’s up might be what she needs to get keep her own head off a silver platter.

And good news from the Palace – at least from her point of view – would be just what she needs to do that.

Then her poll would be a stalling tactic until the subject of the poll is actually achieved, though not by her own hand – but by the hand of Canterbury himself. Brilliant.

Otherwise, she has colossally failed as a leader in a silly polling game and can be checked off as a mark of amateur stupidity. She didn’t buy time, she bought the farm. Not so brilliant.

Alas, we are not so inclined to believe that she’s the bought the farm – no, we are not, not yet.

Tip of the tinfoil to Greg at StandFirm.