At a Board of Education in my town a few weeks ago, I saw a man do something very impressive.
The school district — like most districts in California — has recommended making massive cuts to programs to cope with Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts to public education funding across the state.
In response, the school district had a put a new parcel tax on the June ballot. At this particular board meeting, the trustees were discussing which of the cut programs would be brought back, in which order, if the parcel tax passed.
This was just an “information” item on the agenda — it was up for discussion, not vote. But during the meeting, two high school coaches stood up to decry the total elimination of high school athletics under the new budget. What’s more, they said, if the trustees would vote to make high school athletics the first priority for re-funding that night, the coaches were going to be meeting with hundreds of parents in just a few days and could rev them up about the parcel tax.
All the trustees had to do was convert that little information item into an action item — and vote.
The tension in the room was palpable. With one seemingly easy move, the parcel tax would have a huge contingent of citizens ready to walk precincts, man phone banks, and chat up their neighbors — exactly what a parcel tax campaign needs in an economy gone haywire. The coaches were excited. The audience was excited. Some of the board members were excited.
And one of them was not.
This man, the board president, was the first to point out that under the Brown Act, a political body can’t take action on an item if it isn’t already an action item on the agenda, because the public needs to be given notice about what the board is going to do in a public meeting. And since taking action on the priorities list wasn’t on the agenda, the board couldn’t vote.
The audience groaned. One board member threw up his hands. Another looked dazed. But the board president continued on. “I’m not comfortable doing something that’s illegal,” he said. “The public has a right to know what’s happening at these meetings.”
In taking a stand against pressure, the president behaved in what could be called an “ethical” or “principled” way. He wanted to do his job correctly and he was willing to incur the anger of his colleagues and his constituency to do so. Being able to make and take a stand—even when it’s unpopular—is a key component of emotional intelligence, as it shows you have integrity and are trustworthy, and that you have the self control to avoid doing something foolish due to impulse or peer pressure.
This man, I might add, is no sanctimonious twit. He is kind, he is smart, he is funny, he is poised, and he brings a level of sanity to school district politics that is truly inspiring to watch. In other words, his emotional intelligence covers far more than ethical behavior–he’s pretty much got all the bases covered.
When was the last time you were faced with a difficult ethical decision in your business? Were you able to take a stand against peer pressure? If not, why not? If so, what helped you stay clear?