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The Good Soldier

How do you determine the limits to organizational loyalty?



I abhor our country’s two-party system. To say you’re a Republican initially pigeonholes you into being anti-gay, insensitive to the needy, anti-immigration, part of the religious right, anti-environment, a war monger, anti-stem-cell research, etc. And being a Democrat means hating independent, small-business capitalism; being anti-family; disavowing God and taking political correctness to ridiculous levels.
I get regular email newsletters from both Human Events (Republican) and 21st Century (Democratic), and, to read either at face value, the other party is the anti-Christ bent on destroying America. Everything is black and white. Anyone who doesn’t toe the party line is an unpatriotic traitor.
And, of course, most recently, Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s disparaging commentary in the Rolling Stone interview provided the consummate example of defecating on the party line. As an aside, I’ve often wondered about the automatic, Commander-in-Chief role that all presidents receive, regardless of their military expertise or interest. That must routinely irk military personnel. Nonetheless, regardless of the legitimacy of McChrystal’s frustrations, he was simply wrong to air such grievances so publicly.
Officially, on June 25, I was honored by being named to the board of directors of the Signage Foundation Inc. (SFI), the eight-year-old, nonprofit organization “dedicated to fulfilling the educational, research and philanthropic purposes of on-premise signage.” Under “Who We Are,” the SFI website also explains, “The Signage Foundation, Inc. affirms signage as a fundamental component of today’s mobile society’s communication system and as a necessity for the development of a visually pleasing, economically healthy and diverse community. The Signage Foundation promotes intelligent and productive use of on-premise signage and storefronts that benefit every sector of the U.S. economy.”
I support these tenets 100%. I am biased in favor of the on-premise sign industry and small business in general (which is the main reason I’m a philosophical Republican). When I write editorials that criticize aspects of the sign industry, I always try to determine if doing so will help or hurt the industry. For me, the industry always comes first.
My first action, after having received my official appointment, was to assure all other board members that any internal discussions we have will remain as such. Any official announcements or decisions, of course, will be widely dispersed. As a journalist, by accepting this appointment, I acknowledge and willingly sacrifice publication of any of my personal opinions in ST Media Group publications/websites about any future SFI occurrences. Anything I write on behalf of SFI will strive to reflect collective SFI thinking.
As ST’s Publisher/Editor, I may be lauding non-SFI activity, such as the United States Sign Council’s legislative efforts. As an SFI board member, I may be soliciting SFI coverage from my competitors, Sign & Digital Graphics and Sign Builder Illustrated magazines.
I tend to be a contrarian, better suited to devil’s advocate than yes-man. I once applied for a Marine ROTC appointment, but my eyes were too bad. Probably a good thing. I don’t think I would have been a good fit. Self-discipline and conformity don’t come naturally to me.
I believe these characteristics may be part of the reason SFI chose me. I believe SFI wants to broaden its thinking and scope of influence beyond that of former International Sign Assn. chairmen. I think it wants my views, not so much because I’m right, but because they simply bring a different perspective. And I have some skills at organizing words.
I often have to remind myself, I’m not in the sign industry. Maybe it’s better that I provide an observer’s perspective. Many of the other SFI board members are in the sign industry. I’m in the communications industry. I’m not sure how SFI Chairman Ken Von Wald or SFI board member Greg McCarter view themselves. Are they in the sign business or the supply business?
I’m part of a fourth-generation family business. I once resigned from our own board of directors in frustration because I vehemently opposed a certain policy. My parents (smart people) convinced me that, regardless of how I felt about a singular issue, I could still serve our company better in an active role. I eventually was reappointed.
As my hair acquires more gray areas, life seemingly does the same. No pat answer provides the appropriate line of demarcation between organizational loyalty and individual opinion. When does thoughtful opposition to an idea disintegrate into control-freak arrogance? When is the romanticism of the rugged individualist nothing more than an immature self-centeredness? But what about preventing debilitating groupthink? I recall that fabulous 1957 movie about a jury’s 180° turn, Twelve Angry Men. I can only hope, and pray, while serving SFI, that I will check my ego at the door and utilize my cranium’s gray matter as best I can. n



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