Issue No. 203 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting features a short essay by C.S. Lewis on the risk of coveting your spot in the inside circle. Read it at your own risk! And this reminder, check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
That Gang Inside the Circle
I’ve got three books going right now, including the mammoth 608-pager, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, written just this year by Eric Metaxas. (So far, it doesn’t disappoint.) But I’m not ready to review it yet. So…this week I’m offering you something short and sweet—but significant.
I cannot remember who first told me about the “inner circle” thinking done by C.S. Lewis. I may have mentioned to a colleague that organizations are plagued by the Inside Circle Syndrome. Outsiders want to get inside. Insiders, once they’re in, discover it’s often not that big of a deal. Yet given the choice, most insiders prefer the inside.
In just under 3,800 words, C.S. Lewis masterfully speaks to the sins of those inside the “inner ring” and those outside the “inner ring.” He presented these insights at the Memorial Lecture at King’s College, University of London, in 1944. Oh…to have been a front row student soaking up his wisdom that day!
Let me tempt you to read the entire essay by giving you this morsel—his definition of the inner ring:
“There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration: it may be called ‘You and Tony and me.’ When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself ‘we.’ When it has to be expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself ‘all the sensible people at this place.’ From outside, if you have dispaired of getting into it, you call it ‘That gang’ or ‘they’ or ‘So-and-so and his set’ or ‘The Caucus’ or ‘The Inner Ring.’”
Lewis continues, “If you are a candidate for admission you probably don’t call it anything. To discuss it with the other outsiders would make you feel outside yourself. And to mention talking to the man who is inside, and who may help you if this present conversation goes well, would be madness.”
What’s the point? Lewis cuts through the malarkey and self-deception and stares you down with this: “I will ask only one question—and it is, of course, a rhetorical question which expects no answer. IN the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most.”
The rest of the essay is even better—and more probing. As you approach the Christmas season, you may need a humility refresher course. “The Inner Ring,” by C.S. Lewis, is a seven-page journey for your soul.
Note: You can read the essay online at the C.S. Lewis Society of California. “The Inner Ring” is also included in several Lewis books with compilations of his shorter speeches and essays.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) How many inner rings are you in? Which inner rings have excluded you so far—and how do you feel about that?
2) Lewis says that there are two reasons he has come to his conclusions about inner rings. The first: “Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.” Where have you seen this played out in real life?
Pull the Plug! - Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
One of the big ideas in the Program Bucket, Chapter 6, in Mastering the Management Buckets is to agree, in advance, when to pull the plug on a program, product or service.
There’s a list in the Program Bucket titled “Top-10 Questions to Ask About Capacity and Sustainability.” Question 9 is: “Under what conditions do we agree that we will pull the plug on this program if the goals are not achieved by the target dates?”
It’s never easy to drop a program (especially one that has become a sacred cow), but it’s somewhat less damaging to staff, volunteers, donors, departments and the entire organization if you agree in advance on the goals and objectives that must be met for the program to continue. Give every new launch a test run in a pilot program phase. Most of us pull the plug too late versus too soon. Sooner is usually better.
For the complete list of 10 questions, and book recommendations, visit the Program Bucket page on the Management Buckets website.