10 Rules to be Effective When You are in the Minority
Sooner or later, as an elected official, whether on a school board, city council, or any other local government entity, you find yourself in the minority on an important issue. Sometimes you find yourself completely alone. It is very easy to assume that because you are in the minority you can’t achieve anything. In reality, you can. Here are 10 rules to achieve change, even if not 100% of what you wanted, when you are in the minority.
1. Never forget that you were not invited to join.
Being a school board trustee, I wasn’t invited by the 6 other trustees to join the board. I was sent by 3,797 people who voted for me at the election. I will continue to represent them, rather than “fall in line.”
2. Be knowledgeable.
There is no substitute to knowing what you are talking about. No doubt, you are not a professional in the field, but you need to study and get yourself up to speed on the matters you need to decide on. Don’t defer to the administration as experts. You are supposed to provide governance and oversight to them. Ask for advice from others.
3. Don’t take anything for granted.
Don’t accept “this is how we do things around here.” Challenge the orthodoxies. Bring a different perspective. That’s why you got elected.
4. Ask stupid questions.
I know, I know, “there ain’t such thing as a stupid question.” Actually, there is. Many of mine are. But you shouldn’t avoid asking them because you are afraid of the potential embarrassment. Your responsibility to those who you represent is much bigger than your self-esteem. Besides, who knows? Maybe your question isn’t stupid after all… You’ll never know until you ask.
5. Keep pushing passionately, respectfully, and in-front of an audience.
If you believe in your position—keep pushing for it. Fight the issue, not the people. Maintain respect to them, but don’t confuse that with deferring to their opinion, if you are right. The audience and the camera in the back of the room will help you make the case.
6. Earn the CFO’s trust.
The first time you speak with the district (or city) CFO, you feel stupid. You don’t understand the complexity of government finance. Ask them to explain it. Study yourself. Ask others. Over time, your conversations with the CFO will become more “intelligent.” When you earn their respect, they will listen better to your ideas and take your questions more seriously.
7. Stay on target, stick to your values, but keep an open mind.
Don’t let go of what you believe in because you are in the minority. Don’t give up because you are tired of fighting. Only give up if you are wrong, and accept the possibility that you are. Keep an open mind, and if you realize you are wrong—admit to it. You will gain a lot of respect for doing that.
8. Show the light at the end of the tunnel.
Make the others understand that you can be agreeable to certain compromises. That it is not going to be “your way or the highway.” If the perception is that you will never move your position one inch—you will not be able to convince others to move either. If you indicate a willingness to compromise—you will go a long way towards that. Remember that not everything is black-and-white. Winning might take a different shape than a single vote going your way. I fought hard against the Plano ISD 2016 bond program. I lost the vote 6:1. However, in the process, the 2006 and 2008 bonds got refinanced, we shortened our debt terms from 25 to 20 years, we used authorized “leftovers” from the 2008 bond, used some of our fund balance to fund projects, and more. Overall, the constant pressure may have saved the district $200 million or more in financing. Even though I lost the vote. Remember what the real target is.
9. Shoot at one target at a time.
Don’t try to fight and win all battles at the same time. You can’t, and you will be perceived as an obstructionist and not be taken seriously. You will lose every battle. Choose your battles carefully and fight those, and agree to other, less important things for you.
10. Make allies for specific issues.
Not everyone disagrees with your position on everything. On every topic you may find that some of the other board members, trustees, or council members agree with you. Recruit their support on those issues, both in lobbying for it, and in voting on it. Lose the attitude of “everyone else is against me.”