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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

My experience with “Cancel Culture”, Part 9 - Lessons Learned Part 1

cancel culture, leadership, management
Just because someone has a title doesn't mean they have the skill!

“The problem with incompetence is its inability to recognize itself.” Orrin Woodward

“When success and incompetence meet, disaster is not far away.” Robert Kiyosaki

I was a victim of “cancel culture”.

In the beginning I wasn’t even aware it was happening. I went from being the second in command of a non-profit to being completely removed from that organization in less than 6 weeks! I have been an executive in a large organization for almost two decades, so that was quite an impressive accomplishment. Had I realized I was being canceled I might have prevailed.

If you haven’t read the story, you can find it beginning on my October 14 post here: https://www.projectmanagementforum.net/post/my-experience-with-cancel-culture-part-1-background

Learn from my mistakes. I am going to provide you with a list of lessons learned. Some will be obvious in hindsight, all with be useful.

Here we go!

Lesson 1) – Don’t assume people you are interacting with are ethical. We all understand this in the abstract, and we see unethical people every day in the news. In our private lives, we give the people we associate with the benefit of the doubt. After all, we are good people! Why would we hang out with unethical people? But how do you really know if your friends or colleagues are all ethical? What about the people you hang out with while you are bowling or shooting pool? Why do you think they are ethical? Because they like the same things you do?

We were members of a fraternal organization and had spent social time together, so I assumed they shared my ethical standards. They didn’t. I was constrained by the truth, my principles, and the operating guidelines of the organization. They weren’t. That allowed them the freedom to manufacture falsehoods and ignore the due process. Unless you are willing to wage total war (and few things are worth that), an ethical person is always at a disadvantage.

Lesson 2) – Don’t assume the people you are interacting with are competent. I have a very diversified skill stack and have spent over three decades supervising people and running operations. As the number two person in the organization, I felt it was my responsibility to provide candid feedback to the leader in a private and respectful manner. So I did! I pushed for transparency, division of duties and adequate controls.

At our board meetings my colleague (a successful businessman) and I would explain that we had to follow the by-laws and we needed to do everything in an aboveboard manner. We needed to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest and we should disclose any financial benefits the board was receiving. There was nothing radical about those positions, and in fact they are the cornerstone of good governance.

I understand everyone comes from a different place and I try to never judge people, however in retrospect I failed to realize just how unimpressive most of the members of the board were. Most of them had never run anything and the leader had no experience running large organizations. The more my colleague and I pushed for good governance, the more it was perceived as disloyalty. Had I realized that they didn’t have the necessary skills to run the organization, I might have approached the situation differently.

Many of you will volunteer your time in support of a non-profit or fraternal organization. If you should find yourself in a leadership role with people you have a casual relationship with, assess their ethics and competency. Then act accordingly.


I went to a “turkey shoot” last week and a couple of my daughters tagged along. A “turkey shoot” is an event where you pay to shoot at a target in competition with other attendees, and the person closest to the center wins a prize for each round. My daughters hadn’t really expressed an interest before, but once they shot the gun they were hooked. I decided that it would be a great idea for them to take a gun safety course, so my friend and I researched the process. In Maryland, the course qualifies you to purchase a handgun and requires a background check. When I scheduled the background check, the person told me that there has been an explosion in applications since the COVID-19 shutdowns began. Before then they would process a couple a week, and it is now common to process more than 10 a day! Why the surge? This would be a fascinating research project for an enterprising social scientist.


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