Running an international management consulting practice has its advantages and disadvantages, all of them are just a piece to my puzzle of life. Moving our firm to a small rural community seemed, on the surface, to be the only logical way to manage the complexities of my profession with my requirements as a spouse and father.
Prior to moving to Southern Oregon, the limit to my community involvement was attending my children’s school functions along with Chamber and Rotary functions. You could say that my family’s involvement was compartmentalized and aside from our peers in these three areas, we were anonymous to our community.
In my work, I teach that a major part of the recipe of success in business is discovering one’s passion and going after that passion with an objective perspective. We preach that Objectivity, Clarity, and Integrity together equal Prosperity. Keeping an open mind, making your actions and communications clear, and doing all you can do honestly and ethically will allow a person to prosper in every way measurable.
Becoming involved in local issues when you are a business owner is something akin to moving your life into a fishbowl. This becomes magnified if the community you live in is smaller or you have a large organization. For those who have lived generally anonymous lives, finding yourself inside the fishbowl can be an unpleasant surprise.
As you mature in life, regardless of your profession, political affiliation, or any other socially measured factor, your passions grow in different areas. As your passion grows your opinions, or I should say your ability to proclaim your opinions, may become less inhibited. This can become another unwelcome plunge into the fishbowl as your peers learn about your personal passions. You will find that you become measured by a different standard; if you were a great accountant, lawyer, plumber, or mechanic you will now be measured by your newly found public social image.
This new measurement can be very uncomfortable and quite frankly confusing to many. Business can grow or shrink because of a personal belief that may not be in line with your communities’ way of thinking. It can be something as simple as a stance on licensing animals to something more complex such as local tax spending initiatives or national elections.
The natural reaction to any negative feedback is to be defensive; “My personal belief or stance on this issue has nothing to do with how I fix a broken toilet”. Apply that statement to your profession and most anyone can agree that your ability to do your job as an accountant, lawyer, plumber, or mechanic has nothing to do with who or what position you take on political issues. But, stand up in a community meeting and voice opposition, and you have just dived into the fishbowl, naked.
Staying true to your beliefs is something we should all do and I am not going to dissuade anyone from becoming involved in community issues. I am, however, going to argue for people to pursue their civic passions with objectivity.
First, generally speaking you cannot change people’s minds on political issues. If you could, you would see politicians changing parties and there would be so much turmoil at all levels of politics, nothing would get done. Understanding that your beliefs are generally held by half of the people in your community is the first step to not becoming jaded by one’s civic pursuits.
Second, never use your business to pursue a political issue, unless of course you are sure your business will not be impacted negatively or that the impact you get is worth the effort. When addressing the public, do not allow anyone to confuse what you do for living with your political message. This can be tough in a smaller community, especially on issues related to taxing or other government regulated business issues. You alone can judge the weight of including your business in a political discussion, but keeping the input objective will surely give you an advantage and allow your business to have solid footing should you need to defend your position.
Third, always listen to the detractors. Regardless of how silly they may seem, give them a fair voice. If you are associated with anything controversial and you can objectively listen and acknowledge the other side, without insult or disrespect, you will gain respect from them and their peers as a fair person. Disagreement on issues can be healthy; it can resolve issues for the betterment of an entire community but allowing emotion into the discussion will come back to haunt you both personally and professionally.
Finally, do not underestimate the power of ignorant people. Ignorant people manage all manors of business and government offices. We are all ignorant to many things, sometimes with things we think we know for sure. Public or civic issues are usually where ignorance hurts us the most socially. People generally do not understand the constraints that our local, state, or federal government entities must work within. What we must remember is that while laws should be objective, the people who work and manage them may not be. We are all governed by the interpretation of the laws.
When we allow ignorance to create emotions in a civic matter, we open the door to our involvement in these matters affecting our business. Should you decide to become involved in local issues, do so with objective passion. Remain true to your beliefs and pursue the end you desire. Do so with an understanding that there will be a lot of people who are ignorant and believe differently than you, and they will have the same passion about their beliefs as you. If you keep your mind open, your emotions true, and your business out of it, you will, in the end, make a difference that may not always have the ending you hoped for, but you will have maintained your integrity and standing in a way that may have educated a few and sowed the seeds of change for the future.