Kings and Queens have long fascinated the world. Today, members of the monarchy enjoy a sort of celebrity status as the media documents their every move. Worldwide interest and anticipation was at an all-time high for the coronation of England's King Charles III.
In recent years, Kings and Queens have dominated many of the nation's most popular television series including: The Crown, Reign, The Serpent Queen, Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon. These shows focus on the chaotic environments that challenge the monarchy – wars, plagues, shifting alliances, trade disruptions, betrayal and the need to produce heirs to the throne. As crowned leaders, their response to this chaos is to desperately attempt to control others, keep dangerous secrets, and enact their will with brutal force. These three leadership tactics almost always are unsuccessful and lead to disaster.
As the President of Boys Town, I am a student of leadership and I'm always keen to learn from the mistakes of other leaders. Like the Kings and Queens of old, Boys Town is challenged by a chaotic environment: the Covid pandemic and the resulting pandemic of mental illness, shifting cultural norms, a divisive political climate, unreliable government funding, and an unrelenting media attack on residential care. The easiest response to threats is to fall back on the failed tactics of control, secrecy and brute force, although they have been proven not to work. However, Boys Town leaders and I are dedicated to taking the proper responses, even when it is difficult to do so.
A few years ago, Boys Town hired a consulting firm to help us create a strategic plan. Part of this work involved doing a “4-square" analysis of risk. The goal was to eliminate or at least mitigate the highest risk activities that could potentially affect our organization. The challenge was that Boys Town's mission is to help the most traumatized and medically underserved kids, who also represent the biggest risk both financially and legally. Because of this risk, many non-profits are abandoning the very kids and families who need the most help. That is not the Boys Town way.
Instead, Boys Town decided to double down on our mission, asking our donors to help us do this work when government programs or insurance companies would not pay, or when predatory law firms threatened to sue us. In this kind of environment, it's no wonder why some non-profit leaders try to create a culture of secrecy.
In contrast, Boys Town has worked to create a strong financial and program audit function that reports directly to our Board of Trustees. We also publish an annual transparency report that shows our employee diversity numbers and illustrates how we're working to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
Lastly, many non-profit leaders are responding to the tight labor market by offering exorbitant salaries and bonus plans that appear to be more about profitability and less about meeting the needs of America's kids and families. At Boys Town, we are focused on offering fair and livable market-valued wages and an amazing work culture to all employees, including executives.
Boys Town strives to embody a culture of compassion among our employees and leaders. For example, our Youth Care executives step-up to work shifts as Assistant Family-Teachers in our campus homes while we hire and train new employees for the open positions. Also, we've created a pool of crisis sick leave to which employees can donate their unused vacation day to fellow employees who become seriously ill and have exhausted their paid leave hours.
Instead of leading through control, secrecy, and brute force, Boys Town is choosing to lead with vulnerability, transparency, and compassion. In so doing, I believe that we are leading the right way and following the example of our beloved King: Jesus Christ! As his earthly life drew to a close, Jesus could not have been more vulnerable. He wore a crown of thorns and was nailed to a cross. Jesus also was incredibly transparent with his disciples that this ending was coming and he challenged them to “carry their own crosses."
Despite his own pain and suffering on the cross, Jesus offered compassion to the repentant sinner crucified beside him. Jesus rejected the path of earthly Kings: control, secrecy and brute force. Instead, Jesus chose to be a leader who suffered and died for us and to be vulnerable, transparent and compassionate. He showed us a better, more humane and loving way to lead and help others who are struggling to build brighter futures.