Arthur was the oldest member of the board both in age and in service. It was a volunteer board and service carried no salary, no benefits, and no perks. They were a non-profit public service organization. Anyone who served on the board did so just because they wanted to serve.
During his 40 years on the board, he had demonstrated a sincere desire to help lead the organization and make the most of the opportunities they had. However, he had also developed a reputation for speaking his mind, regardless of who got hurt, belittled, or embarrassed in the process. His supporters often said he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. His detractors felt he was rude, insensitive, and thoughtless toward others.
Zoey, the newest member of the board, was a young professional woman who had recently moved to the community. She was bright, personable, and well spoken. She had actively sought a seat on the board because of a keen awareness and appreciation for the work of the organization. For the first several meetings she said very little. She took time and learned. She talked to other board members to get a feel for anything that she didn’t understand. She attempted to talk to Arthur following a meeting and her efforts were promptly rebuffed. The president of the board had seen this and explained that she shouldn’t be offended because, “That’s just how Arthur is.” Not wishing to make an issue, she accepted that, even though she was miffed by his treatment. Several other times during her first year on the board she had heard someone say “That’s just how he is,” as an excuse for something rude, insensitive, or unkind Arthur had said.
During her second year she was ready to put a proposal before the board. She first tried it out informally with the president, who gave it a hardy thumbs-up. She had also run it past several of the other board members, all of whom supported it. When she introduced it at a board meeting, Arthur was quick to respond. He offered a litany of reasons why it could fail. He attempted to speak for the whole board when he said, “That’s not something this board could support.” Then he went on to say that he thought it a bit presumptuous for someone so new to the board to put suggestions forward for consideration. And that’s when he crossed her line.
In a calm, professional, and upbeat voice Zoey offered a response that was music to every set of ears in the room except one. “Arthur, I am currently in my second year of a three-year term. I believe in our organization and what we do. Just how long do you think I should wait until I share an idea?”
She looked at him, but he made no response. Then she continued. “It may interest you to know that I have spoken with the president and several other members of the board, and this proposal does have a base of support. So if anyone is being presumptuous it may be you, when you say that this board could never support such an initiative.”
Every eye and ear in the room was either on her to see what she was going to say next or on Arthur to see how he was going to react. Arthur was stunned. He didn’t say a word. In the same calm and professional manner she redirected her attention to the board as a whole and she carefully outlined her proposal, then asked the president to call for an initial vote. The president did so and the motion to consider her new proposal further carried eight to one.
After the meeting, several members of the board, including the president, thanked Zoey for her proposal and commented that Arthur was indeed out of line. In the same calm demeanor, she said, “I didn’t intend to offend him, but I’m not prepared to stand idly by and be offended by him either. For me there’s a line and he crossed it.”
She went on to explain that the statement, “That’s just the way he is,” has not, does not, and never will give him the right to belittle other members of the board. “During my time on this board he has time and again taken advantage of our acceptance of his behavior, just because that’s the way he is. As long as we keep making excuses for him, odds are good that he’ll continue to be just that way. That statement may explain why he says the things he does, but it will never excuse them.”
“And folks I hope this doesn’t offend Arthur or any of you, but that’s just the way I am!”