This was posted recently on Facebook by a longtime Society member who has been a leader locally, district wide, and Society wide. How does what he expresses resonate with you and your local chapter? How does it affect your chapter growth and retention? Take time to have serious conversations about this within your chapter!
Ownership vs. Stewardship?
The other day, I had the opportunity to chat with an old friend who I sang Barbershop with back in the nineties. I hadn’t seen him for many years and it was good to hear that he and his family were well and happy. It didn’t take long before the conversation turned to Barbershop. Way back when, he was as into the hobby as much as I was. He sang in the chorus, had a quartet and even took a position on the Chapter Board. Then one day, without any fanfare, he just walked away. And sadly, no one reached out to stop him.
As we caught up, he was candid about his unhappiness in the Chapter during his last few years of membership. He spoke bitterly about the men who “ran him out”. He spoke about how despite having been a productive, dues paying member of the group for half a decade, he felt like he was on the outside. He said the day he decided to leave was the day he realized that the chapter was the “property” of several lifelong members and that he didn’t matter. In his opinion, the only people that did matter were the “owners”… and he was just a “renter”. And renters come and go. So, he went.
He spoke of how, behind the scenes, the “owners” exerted control over everything in the Chapter from the songs the chorus sang to who stood in front of the chorus as Director. When these “owners” spoke, each sentence began with passive aggressive reminders of their self-importance such as how long they had been members, how many tickets they sold, how many sponsor dollars they brought in. When the “owners” spoke, you better listen. Whereas when the “renters” spoke, no one paid attention.
After all these years, despite his continuing love for Barbershop, he won’t go back. And after all these years, he still had hard feelings about his Barbershop experience…. about these men.
It was really hard to hear. And probably the hardest thing to hear was that he thought of me as an “owner”.
And I know now, that he was right. I was arrogant. I was indifferent. I was just like the old men who, for right or wrong, “owned” our Chapter.
Thank goodness, I woke up.
Sometime in the last ten years or so, I started thinking differently about my participation in the hobby. I consciously started thinking and behaving like a steward rather than an owner… a servant rather than a boss. In all things Barbershop, I now view myself as a caretaker. While I am consuming Barbershop, I’m also producing opportunities for others to consume. Most importantly, I’m preserving the hobby for the next guy… or girl.
As my friend and I wrapped up our conversation, I did apologize for the part I may have played in souring his Barbershop experience. I described my personal journey from owner to steward and encouraged him to give things a try again. He smiled and told me he would think about it, but I could tell he wouldn’t be back.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last few days. I hope my service to others will someday make up for the disservices I was once guilty of. Self-examination is a good thing. And this question is a good one.
In the Barbershop world, or in any other world you love, are you an owner, or a steward?