After three cups of coffee at the McLean Family Restaurant or the Tenleytown Starbucks, they're ready to chart action. Steven Lambert credits these seminal conversations with president David McAllister-Wilson as his best preparation for chairing the board of Wesley Theological Seminary. Steve Lambert took over the chair's role for the Washington, D.C., school last summer after work on the seminary's new strategic plan.
"That's where I learned how David worked," Steve says, and "what I should do and be" for him. He's learned that trust comes from creating a space where David McAllister-Wilson can think out loud, confide what's on his mind, talk himself in and out of positions, and "have the right to be wrong before being right."
From David's point of view, three cups of coffee gives them the time "to get to the right issue." Steve, a seasoned litigator in state and federal courts, brings an ability to analyze and to find clarity when circumstances seem muddled. And he helps David understand what information the board and its committees will need to make sound decisions about crucial issues. David thinks that together they come up with recipes for committees to deal with items "at the right time and temperature."
|David McAllister Wilson
This spring In Trust asked David and Steve to talk about their respective roles as president and board chair. It was a public setting -- in front of other presidents and board leaders at In Trust's Governance Intensive seminar -- so I would have understood completely had they declined our request. As it turned out, the exemplary reflections and good humor they displayed during the "David and Steve Show" reminded their peers in the room how much shared commitments, proven leadership ability, trust and the right chemistry make for a productive relationship.
Steve tries to reassure David that "I know my place." He says that he tries to stay in his own lane, not pre-empting the presidential role. Sometimes he takes the responsibility to remind David when it's time to leave for the day, but mostly he tries to provide a "modified outsider's view." David, for his part, knows what he must do to assist his board chair. Although he thinks of himself as a preacher, David recognizes that he must "leave the dog and pony at home" so that the two of them can dig to the heart of matters.
David speaks of showing Steve enough of the trees to reveal the forest -- enough of the detail to understand the bigger picture. And Steve reminds him that a board chair needs help in knowing, among myriad possibilities, where to devote his time.
Steve sees David as "the keeper of the blinds" -- the one who knows how much light needs to be shed on issues. He loves to get good news, but it's even more important to hear bad news -- before the public does.
Finally, David wants to invite Steve "into the mystery" -- not the puzzle of seminary administration, but the deep mystery of how the seminary is a part of what God is doing in the world through the church. Devoted to the church, Steve and David share this commitment to enter this "fellowship of the mystery" (Ephesians 3:9).
What a session! We wish every board chair and president could have been in that room as David and Steve exposed the inner workings of their relationship. Fortunately, the tape was rolling, and the two of them have permitted us to offer highlights of their dialogue to In Trust's members.
In a few weeks, In Trust will be mailing membership packets to all North American theological school presidents. Both new and returning members -- presidents and their staffs and boards -- will get online access to this rich discussion. I suspect that I won't be the only person who wants to listen more than once.