Thursday, May 19, 2011

Blackballing Is A Form Of Organizational Incest

“Politics isn’t logical, it’s personal” was the ominous warning an elected official gave me many years ago when he told me I could either look the other way with my organization’s legal restrictions on use of funds or pay with the loss of my job.

I didn’t look the other way and instead kept seeking a win/win solution, but that didn’t stop those bent on violating those restrictions. For them it was purely win/lose. It was personal and all about power.

Given that official’s revelation though, you’d think elected officials would be better at discerning controversies in other realms that only appear to be about money but are usually about something more personal such as the practice of blackballing or cabals.tumblr_ljibcilR8x1qgl8g0o1_500

One of the things that can give any governing board, but especially non-profit boards, a deadly reputation is when, or if, the practice of “blackballing” potential board recruits is permitted or enabled or practiced in any form.

Blackballing doesn’t have to be by secret ballot anymore, it can be done informally through a whisper campaign or a side-comment, but it is almost always deployed to keep people off a board either as retribution for a past position or out of fear of diverse opinions or losing control of a hidden agenda.

Many boards and executives form strong opinions and then look for information and sycophants to support them and blackball those who don’t.

They flunk “real-world 101” according to the award-winning book What Intelligence Tests Miss; The Psychology of Rational Thought by Keith E. Stanovich a professor at the University of Toronto. He identifies key attributes for successful “real-world” judgment and decision making that go beyond IQ, the first two being the “tendency to collect information before making up one’s mind and to seek various points of view before coming to a conclusion.”

The practice brings to mind the immortal words of Phil Everly, “I’ve been cheated, been mistreated” in a song later made even more famous by Linda Ronstadt. Two organizations that I know of blackballed me during the time I’ve lived in Durham. But thankfully I never had to worry about “when will I be loved” during my time here.

The first instance occurred a month or so after I was recruited here to jump-start Durham’s community/destination marketing organization. An organization to which I had belonged in other communities for nearly 15 years didn’t have a Durham chapter because some folks in Raleigh had blackballed Durham by claiming their chapter was “regional,” hoping to perpetuate the myth that these two very separate and distinct communities were just one big place.

Understandably, having me as a member, with my express mission to protect and foster Durham’s identity, would have upset their agenda or been awkward to say the least. Anyway, I didn’t really have the time or desire to commute all over an area twice the size Rhode Island just to attend meetings as they rotated from community to community.

I was also blackballed by a Durham organization that could have used my expertise given their tendency to use tourism as a rationale. But apparently, as sources eventually volunteered, I just had “too much information” at my fingertips and besides powerbrokers, often non-residents, knew from past experience that when facts didn’t support a proposal, I just wasn’t a “go along to get along” kind of guy.

It may have been their loss but I definitely never needed “more meetings” to attend during my now-concluded four-decade career as a community marketing executive. While friends and family know I’m a bit of a hermit, I never went so far as the Groucho Marx quote that “he didn’t care to belong to a club that would have him as a member,” later made famous again by Woody Allen in one of my favorite movies, Annie Hall.

But the temptation to blackball is also why non-profits with self-appointed governing boards should beware of any members with that tendency or even those who might tolerate it. Any credible organization should also be very careful to insulate all qualifications, procedures, practices and policies from this schoolyardesque behavior.

In fact the whole idea of an entirely self-appointed board, either by policy or practice or maybe just from laziness is never a good idea. Like any form of incest, inbreeding always has serious consequences.

Public bodies in particular should avoid funding any organization that tolerates blackballing; and should there ever be a need to identify underlying reasons for any controversies surrounding a funded organization, the composition of its board and how it is appointed along with any evidence of blackballing might be the first place to investigate.

Remember, politics is personal, not logical.

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