My third reason for stepping down is the effect of a small contingent of people who thought it was their inalienable constitutional democratic right to make me suffer for every single thing I did or didn’t do.
In one aspect, this comes with the job. It is normal for a party leader to take mockery and ridicule from supporters of other parties, as well as from hostile reporters, and be patient while re-explaining the issues, again and again. But these people were alleged supporters of the party, within the Pirate Party.
In military terms, being shot in the back like this is called blue fire. It used to be called friendly fire until somebody realized it wasn’t very friendly.
When you’re exposed to treatment like this, several times a day, every single day, from people you need to rely on, it changes your behavior. You stop planning forward and start watching your back. You stop being proactive and start becoming risk-averse. In more concrete terms, you stop looking forward to all the possible wonderful open paths for changing the world, and start worrying over which daggers are going to come from where today, and wonder when the pain will hit.
These people — which were a tiny, tiny minority contingent, it must be pointed out — would argue that it is part of democratic processes to criticize as they have done. Let me make clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that it is not and that it is harmful beyond imagination. For one thing, you just don’t give the person whose job it is to publicly convey trust in your movement — you don’t give that person a treatment designed to break down prisoners of war before an interrogation. Processes and bylaws be damned. You don’t give anybody on your team that kind of treatment, regardless of what you think of them.
I have seen other people exposed to this treatment peripherally in my career years. They usually break down in two to three months and then have to leave the work force for a couple of years, and never quite come back.
To make one thing clear: this treatment did not affect my decision to step down. However, the way it changed me did. My only defense was to stop listening to that kind of criticism and trust my inner compass and a few carefully selected people. As I knew I would be hit by a torrent of criticism for everything I did and didn’t do on every single day, starting with the fact that I went out of bed and at what time, it became impossible to sort relevant feedback from blue fire. I didn’t intend to break down; but instead I became shellshocked.
It could take many forms. A lot of it was public deliberate distortions of things I had said, turned into mockery. Some was plain made up. Overall, it was the kind of things you would expect to see from the competing team.
Most of the blue fire wasn’t public, though. Let me take one concrete example, where a member of the party board sent a long mail to my management team explaining basically what a horrible person I was, and in particular, how bad a manager this person thought I was.
Now, in order to see the gravity here: the party management team is the team of people that reports to the party leader. The party leader reports to the party board. So this was my boss (or one of them, at least) sending a scathing mail to the people who have me as their boss telling them what a horrible manager they thought I was.
If your boss led you in to your team one morning and started with such a tirade, adressed at your team, telling them how bad you were, how long would you stay at that job?
(Fortunately, people in my team responded quickly and defended me. But still.)
Things like this happened daily. Several times a day. For several years. It changed me into somebody I don’t want to be, and that — specifically that — is reason #3 I’m stepping down.
How would it have changed you?
That said, it was also the hardest leadership and management problem I’ve ever had. This contingent portrayed themselves as martyrs that weren’t allowed influence. Telling them to shut up would just have put more fuel on that fire and wouldn’t have worked. Ignoring them and rewarding people that did real work instead was the best recipe I could find. Just throwing them something to keep them quiet was never an option on the table — the worst thing you can do to an organization culture is to reward intriguemakers and backstabbers with what they want. That teaches everybody else that blue fire is the way to get ahead, and as a result, that behavior will spread and prosper. Creativity in the org grinds quickly to a halt when that happens.
Side note: I’ve been out for a couple days with something flulike. Hence the five-day gap in publication.