October 2009 Archives

Here is what happens with many boards. You have a group of individuals who have been honestly working hard to improve their community. Far too often, they have been trying to remove the old board members who are putting their friends in positions, giving contracts to their friends, using their influence to get back at people they or their family members don't like.

Now, our new group gets elected. These people have been ethical individuals, on the outside, very frustrated by the misuse of power they have seen. Now it is their turn to be in charge. What happens?

As an observer in just such a board turnover this week, here is what I saw. Art started the meeting by saying,
"I think our first priority should be to give the Assistant Director a raise and a promotion."

I asked,
"What do you mean? He was just promoted three months ago."

Art replied,
"Yes, but he really helped us in this board election, talking to people, getting them to vote for us. We might not have gotten elected without him. Besides, the last board did not appreciate him so because they were so busy taking care of their friends, they forgot about the people like him."

This seemed a bit of a double standard to me. I asked Art,
"Well, aren't you trying to do the same thing, just take care of your friends? Are you telling me that we need to give him a promotion and a raise because he supported us in the election?"

Art dropped the subject but gave me a dirty look and muttered something under his breath about thinking we were all on the same side.

You should know that Phyllis had once worked at Sam's Cafe and had quit in an argument over whether she should get a raise. Phyllis started in next,

"I don't think we should use Sam's Cafe for the food for our events any more.  We should give our business to people who support our programs. "

I interrupted her,
"What do you mean? He donated free food for our Parent Night, he donated money $500 in our last fund drive when we were five hundred dollars short."

Phyllis frowned at me and continued,
"Sam doesn't support our community. He doesn't hire our community members."

I argued,
"What do you mean? He has five people working for him."

Phyllis continued, angrily,
"He also doesn't pay above minimum wage. We need businesses that support minimum wage. We should not support his business at all."

Finally, I lost my temper and said,
"Look Phyllis, just because you don't like Sam does not mean we are all going to vote to have him castrated. That isn't what being on a board is about. It's not getting even with people who you disagree with. Yes, you are right that Sam doesn't pay high wages but for some people, they are just happy to have a job. Not everyone has to have the same opinion as you."

And so, it went on and on. What happens to good people who suddenly get in a position of power? A lot of things, there is the old saying "Power corrupts."

Why? In part because these are people who have been on the outside and suddenly they have the chance to get back at the people who they believe have treated them poorly. Some of them, such as Phyllis, truly believe that their 'enemies' are bad, that only paying minimum wage is a bad thing. When these people are not on the board, this is their opinion, and that is all it is. Now, they suddenly have the ability to make their opinion policy.

Here is what they need to think about, yes, you may have that power, but do you have that RIGHT? 

Go ahead, kill your wife

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Years ago, I taught a course on conflict resolution and the opening assignment was the lamp problem. In short, you have  a conflict. You want to buy a blue lamp for your living room and your wife wants a pink one. The task for the students is to come up with as many solutions as possible for this conflict.  Most people can think of two off the top of their head, that is, you get your way or your wife gets hers. A few creative people came up with three to five. For example, buy a lamp with pink and blue stripes. The book we used for the course had over twenty solutions. Some were pretty outrageous but they WOULD resolve the conflict.

One was,
"Kill your wife. Bury her in the backyard. Then buy whatever damn color lamp you want."
Another was,
"Divorce her. You probably disagree on other things, too, right?"
A third was,
"Don't buy a lamp. Sit in the dark."

The author pointed out that, while these seem pretty ridiculous, that in business situations, sometimes we get so caught up in winning that we do the equivalent of killing our spouse over what color lamp to buy.

Recently, I ran for the board of a non-profit organization. I had been on the board for a while and, I think, done a pretty good job. In the course of the election, a lot of very hateful, untrue things were said about me and my opponents engaged in some very unethical behavior. I was tempted to retaliate in kind when Erich pointed out to me,

"No disrespect intended, here, but you're just talking about some board."

I realized that he was right, It was an organization to which I donated my time and services. Many people had benefited over the past few years and nothing would change that fact . If my opponents were able to win the election because they did some very unethical things, that would be unfortunate. However, I realized that acting the opposite of beliefs in honesty and integrity that I had held for a lifetime just to have a seat on some board would be like killing my husband so I could get the pink lamp.

Next week, we'll know who won the election. If it is me and my supporters, fine. If not, I will find another organization to which I can donate volunteer time, and maybe have some more free time for myself as well. One less I remembered, just in time, was from Carly Fiorina, former head of Hewlett-Packard

Once you sell your soul, no one can ever buy it back for you.