The post on Conflict of Interest earlier this week has led to some of the most interesting discussion about organizational leadership issues I’ve seen in a while. To all who participated, thank you! (And to all who missed it, read through the comments here.)
Of the many issues that arose in that discussion, some have led to new thinking and new questions. Here are a few of the salient points raised in those comments:
- First, it is important to note that conflicts of interest are not illegal. Conflicts must be disclosed, and interested parties must recuse themselves from decisions about which they have a conflict. But it is not illegal for board members to have conflicts of interest.
- Conflict of Interest discussions are rooted in distrust. Yes, they’re rooted in the law, but face it – the law is rooted in distrust.
- If Creating the Future is a place for exploring structures that will create the most impact in communities, AND if we know that The Pollyanna Principles are the key to creating that impact, AND if distrust goes directly counter to those principles – then we must find approaches that are aligned with both the law and our core values, which are rooted in those principles!
- To accomplish Creating the Future’s mission, the board must be a place for diversity of thought, brilliant exploration, and honest reflection about the assumptions that guide both the organization’s work and the sector’s work overall.
There is one other thing that stands out boldly in this discussion, that I don’t recall ever hearing in similar discussions over my years as a governance consultant. And that is the question of whether conflicts arising from passionate involvement in the mission might actually be a good thing.
Yes, such conflicts must be disclosed – that’s a given. But it is fascinating the extent to which we take for granted that conflict of interest = bad.
And it is even more fascinating, when those assumptions are laid bare, that it opens the door to even considering the notion that a board might intentionally seek out as leaders those people who care enough about the mission to have such involvement!
The Next Question
As Dimitri and I discussed all this yesterday (ironically on our way to my giving a talk about open, transparent engagement), Dimitri wondered aloud whether the “perception” part of the discussion goes away if decisions are made transparently and openly, as we have been doing.
He pointed out that conflicts of interest are dangerous when decisions are private, because that is when there is opportunity for all the things we might distrust to happen. When decisions are made with just the board and the ED present – the way most board meetings happen – and when minutes reflect only cursory discussion and a final decision, that is a recipe for trouble, conflict of interest or not!
But if all decisions are made out in the open for all to see, as we have been doing here…
Might the bogeyman “perception” aspect of Conflict of Interest become a moot point?
If such transparency of decision-making is built into the bylaws and the culture of the organization, how much of the “perception” aspect of the Conflict of Interest issue might simply disappear?
Photo Credit: Self Portrait Through the Looking Glass by Dimitri