About four weeks ago, I was invited to a private dinner party with some old political associates and friends I made during my years with the Green Party. The guest of honor was former Leader of the Green Party of Ontario, Frank de Jong. Also present was former and present Green Party of Manitoba Leaders, Markus Buchart and James Beddome.
The dinner and discussion was enjoyable. I have not had the opportunity for many years to interface with others related to politics and economics. I came away impressed with my discussions with Frank de Jong.
Talking with Frank, one is immediately impressed with a person who is smart, friendly, speaks with integrity, and humble. He talked about his decision to resign as GPO leader because he saw the need to bring in fresh blood and perspective. The GPO suffered a loss of votes under the new leaders but Frank feels it has more to do with particular election contest than about any personal issues with the existing leadership. I personally disagree with him, because leadership and personality is how voters relate to most political parties but I appreciated his humility.
One of the questions that he answered was something that has had me thinking since I left the Green Party. How do you keep out the crackers/nutters/grumpies that enjoy making these political groups a toxic and dysfunctional entity? I had left active involvement with the Greens just before the crackers/nutters/grumpies started to ruin the group. I suspect there was a part of me that realized what was happening and did not have the stomach to check in my idealism and drop the gloves with that group.
For the sake of not losing Frank’s wisdom and insight, here is his method to keeping out the nutters of your group (be it political or not). I numbered them because I see this being a linear process.
1) Identify the trouble maker. You need to know your enemy. How? Simply that these are people that are process and optics obsessed. These people will stew and stir the pot about process and will disable productive meetings.
2) It takes energy to outlast these nutters, so you need to find a supply of fresh bodies to continue joining your group to run for positions against them. The goal is to keep these people out of power and the only way this happens is by filling the positions with people that are reasonable and are prepared to be productive. Its critical that the phone keep running.
3) Be strategic and ruthless. Keep these nutters from destroying your group by outnumbering them at votes. You need to galvanize people to come out and vote.
I can see that I failed on all three counts. I had the initial pleasure of being friendly and welcoming to everybody but I bowed out just as the going started to get tough. But I truly do not regret it. I was just starting to get turned off with politics and my decision to drop out was likely a reaction to what I saw as a loss of control of the party to the nutters. It was too late to stop the nutters from derailing the Green Party of Manitoba. On a positive note, the party is now starting to rebuild under new leadership.
Frank steered the Green Party of Ontario through those hazards and he can speak with real authority about the leadership required to run a party. Frank was so sure of his perspective, not because he blindly believed it, but because he had experienced it, thought about it, contemplated it, and came to an understanding of what the solution is. What a rare quality. There are very few people who can do this, and even fewer leaders. I had the pleasure of experiencing this quality through an entertaining evening shared with Frank de Jong.