Originally published April 10, 2013
Revised and republished December 5, 2015 after a web host transfer.
This post is an attempt to help you recognize crony cliques, understand their barriers and tactics, and make them answer for their actions.
The Encarta World English Dictionary definition of crony is:
“a close friend, especially one of long standing”
The Encarta World English Dictionary definition of clique is:
“a close group of friends or colleagues having similar interests
and goals, and whom outsiders regard as excluding them”
A crony clique is a group of friends or colleagues that keeps its interests and goals separate from outsiders. Cronies treat outsiders who try to participate in the clique’s interests and goals as trespassers. As a group they use crony tactics to protect themselves from trespassers.
Crony tactics to keep outsiders out include restrictions on membership using a variety of barriers:
If a crony clique is forced to include an outsider, the cronies will treat the outsider as a trespasser and use a variety of tactics to prevent trespassers from participating in their privileges, including:
Double standards for accomplishments
Double standards for behavior
Rerouted communication for the purpose of hijacking a decision or process
Ugly gossip about trespassers to hide crony tactics
(Crony clique members hide their own wrongful actions by accusing
the people they harmed of taking wrongful actions.)
If they feel the need, crony cliques will use a combination of barriers and tactics to protect themselves from outsiders and trespassers.
If a crony clique is treating you as an outsider or a trespasser, try sending them a letter asking specific questions. If any individual, group, or organization has a stake in the effectiveness of the crony clique, you could also send a copy of the letter to them. This will put pressure on the crony clique members to explain their actions to the people whose approval they need.
I had a bad experience with a crony clique that was part of the county historical society. After doing research on crony cliques, I decided to send the crony clique a letter and send a copy to the county historical society. You can use my letter as a template for writing your own letter to a crony clique. If you like, send a copy of your letter (with names removed) to paula at speakingfromtriumph.com. Let me know the crony clique’s response, as well as the response of anyone with a stake in the crony clique. I will use all the letters and responses to give my readers more information about coping effectively with crony cliques. Together, we can work to make our communities, states, and country more effective.
My Crony Clique Story
I live near an historical building that belongs to the county historical society. Individuals volunteer to be on the committee that hosts fundraising events for the purpose of maintaining the building. The events include an annual art show as well as music and other events. The woman who had originally organized the art show decided to end her participation after more than a decade. No one stepped in to keep the show going, so one year went by without an art show. The next year, 2006, I discovered that no one was going to organize a show again that year, so I said I would do it. I had volunteered at the art show for years, so I at least had that experience.
I contacted people who had been part of the historical building committee before, inviting them to the first meeting. Since I had never been on the committee before, I mostly coordinated the meetings and provided opportunities for the people with more experience to do what they had done before. I also headed up the art show committee, organizing the artists and volunteers. Through our combined efforts, the show was a rousing success.
In March 2007, I finished making a documentary about the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), host of the longest running and most successful renewable energy fair in the world. I made the documentary to understand the amazing success of the MREA’s annual energy fair. I discovered the ingredients for spectacular success. Every spectacular success around the world uses most if not all of the ingredients for spectacular success. Examples include Habitat for Humanity, the Underground Railroad, Martha Stewart, Solidarity in Poland, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, the world’s largest trivia contest, and the navy cruise missile destroyer USS Benfold under Captain D. Michael Abrashoff and the commander who followed him.
At a three person art show committee meeting in early 2007, I said I wanted to sell my documentary at the art show. An artist at the meeting immediately told me I would have to ask the full committee for permission.
Artists on the historical building committee sold their art at the art show without ever asking permission to do so, including the artist who told me I had to ask for permission. A singer on the committee regularly scheduled her own group to sing at the historical building without ever asking permission to do so. A business owner whose store is across the street from the historical building used the historical building’s outdoor bulletin board for free advertising without ever asking permission to do so. The owner of a landscaping company donated trees and plants to the historical building and used the donation to advertise her business. A former committee member with a framing business framed old photographs to hang in the historical building and used the donation to advertise her business. A local businessman who did some work on the historical building posted a sign in the parking lot to advertise his business. All of those people found ways to personally profit from their volunteer time for the historical building.
Any community artist who wants to sell their work at the art show merely had to say, “I want to sell my art at the art show.” They wrote their names and addresses on a list. A few months before the show, the head of the art show committee (that would have been me at the time), sent letters to everyone on the list and the first 40 who responded sold their art at the show.
No one had to ask permission to personally profit from the art show.
I sent an email to all of the committee members asking why I was the only person who had to ask for permission to sell their art at the art show. I received no response. The artist had created a rule barrier, but no one could think of a way to justify the rule barrier.
I would like to point out here, as I did to the historical building committee, that very few people would have bought my documentary. Documentaries do not sell well. I watch documentaries all the time, but I have never bought one. I wanted people to see my documentary on a table and pick it up to read the back cover. Then people who had never heard of the MREA would learn about it and possibly look them up on the Internet, visit the fair, or attend a one of the workshops the MREA hosts at other times of the year.
Because my documentary shows the history of an historical event in the county, it seemed to me that it should be included in historical society events. I emailed the president of the county historical society, and he agreed to take copies to sell at historical society events. Any profit would go to the historical society.
I was right to consider my documentary a resource for the county’s history. A former executive director of the MREA later told me that whenever they hired a new employee, she would hand them a copy of my documentary and say, “Here. This is the history of the MREA. Watch it.” A later MREA director used 17 quotes from my documentary in a book about the first 20 years of the energy fair. My documentary was the major source for the book.
As soon as the committee found out that I had contacted the president of the historical society, one of them emailed me to accuse me of going behind their backs.
I was unable to attend the next two meetings — an art show committee meeting and a full committee meeting. After those two meetings I received the following email. I have put the crony clique clues in bold font:
To let you know, we discussed a policy (initially at the
art show mtg and then confirmed at the General Comm.
Mtg) regarding the sales of non-art items at the Art Show
and music events, as well as other items in general. We
decided that we don’t want to be in the business of selling
stuff, or promoting others’ materials. So the policy reads
something to the effect that only items from non-profit
organizations may be displayed or sold (that gives us
discretionary power). We hope it will eliminate complications
such as the (specialty) T-Shirts in which we ended up losing
money because we lost track of the inventory.
This policy would also apply to your DVD’s, Paula. We
hope this isn’t taken as a personal affront. We just want to
avoid the complications of selling other products.”
The singer who used the historical building as her personal performance stage wrote this email to me. Her group no longer performs yearly at the historical building. Perhaps the conflict of interest became to blatant to ignore.
Lets look at the crony clique clues in detail.
“…we discussed a policy (initially at the art show mtg and
then confirmed at the General Comm. Mtg)”
These were behind-my-back meetings.
The art show sells still photographs. One year they sold photographs that had been cut to fit magnets to put on refrigerators. Video is a form of photography. Both still and moving pictures begin with cameras. My documentary includes graphics and music, both of which are considered art.
After receiving that email, I googled “documentary as art” and got 1,100 hits. I googled “Arts and Sciences + documentary” and got 27,400 hits. I googled “documentary artist” and got 10,200 hits. Every year around the world, thousands of film festivals and awards ceremonies recognize and celebrate documentaries as art. The crony clique historical building committee set a double standard for my documentary by deciding it was “non-art” “stuff”.
In the case of video photography, the crony clique historical building committee actually set two double standards. For years, the historical building committee has shown a version of my “stuff” at the historical building. They have a yearly summer movie night. They started out showing movies about people and events in Wisconsin’s history.
Remember, my documentary is about a nonprofit organization within the same county as the historical building. Members of the MREA staff consider my documentary a history of the MREA and its annual fair. It fit the characteristics the committee looked for in the movies they showed.
These words created an identity barrier. They clearly identified me as an “other”. The cronies saw me as a trespasser.
“So the policy reads something to the effect that only items
from non-profit organizations may be displayed or sold
(that gives us discretionary power).”
Again, my documentary is about the nonprofit MREA. Selling the documentary at the art show would support the MREA in more than one way. First, my documentary would draw attention to the MREA. Second, the back cover states that 50% of the profits will be donated to the MREA. (Because documentaries do not sell well, I have not yet made a profit.) This rule barrier excluded the nonprofit MREA.
“This policy would also apply to your DVD’s, Paula.”
This is a rule barrier written specifically to prevent me from sharing in the privileges the cronies wanted to protect from trespassers. Obviously, the other members of the historical building committee considered their ability to personally profit from being on the committee a privilege that I did not deserve.
The two meetings I did not attend took place two months before the art show, so they had ample time to wait for me to be present at a meeting to discuss my documentary. They purposefully discussed my documentary behind my back so they could use an identity barrier to create a rule barrier using a double standard for accomplishments. They did this to prevent me from sharing in the personal profit privilege they wanted to keep to themselves.
I resigned from both committees.
I cannot quote any specific instance of ugly gossip. I suspect that the committee member who accused me of going behind their backs has used ugly, blaming gossip to hide her own sabotage. I believe this because of another incident.
I live near a curve in our village. The accusing committee member drives around that curve to get to our post office. When I can see cars coming around the curve, I have 6 to 7 seconds before they reach my driveway — if they are going the speed limit. When cars go faster than the speed limit, I might have 3 to 4 seconds before they reach my driveway. I have looked towards the curve, seen no car, and backed out of my driveway only to find a car on my bumper as soon as I stop to shift gears.
To protect myself, I back slowly to the end of my driveway looking in the other direction where the road is straight. At the end of my driveway I turn to look at the curve before backing out. One day when I was slowly backing down the driveway and looking at the straight side of the road, the accusing committee member came around the curve and honked at me. She obviously had not considered the danger I face every time I back out of my driveway, because she did not slow down. I doubt that she was driving the speed limit. Given that experience, I am certain the accusing committee member would use ugly gossip about me without a second thought.
Crony Clique Short-Sightedness
Since crony cliques exist for their own personal gain, cronies cannot see beyond the tips their noses to consider:
Long term consequences
Not everyone agrees with the thinking or actions of crony cliques. I told several people about how the historical building committee crony clique treated me. These are three of the responses:
“How weird! Of course film is art!”
“It’s their loss.”
“Have the MREA ask them to sell your documentary at the art show.”
In fact, the MREA sold my documentary every year I brought copies to their energy fair.
The historical building committee also ignored my documentary’s discoveries about 26 situational, organizational, financial, emotional, and relationship ingredients for spectacular success. One ingredient focuses on self. Two ingredients focus on task. Nine ingredients focus on working with others. Fourteen ingredients focus on satisfying others. Spectacular success comes from working with others and satisfying others.
Other people are paying attention to the ingredients for spectacular success. One of the people I connected with at the energy fair is now moving into a new career. This person is impressed with my findings about spectacular success. In response to an email, she told me she would remember the ingredients for spectacular success in her new career.
Long Term Consequences
The county we live in is a hotbed of spectacular success. I am revising a book that will include a chapter about this county. The chapter will list this county’s spectacular successes. If the historical building committee had treated me as an equal, working with me and satisfying me, I would have wanted to work with and satisfy them. I write about ordinary people who create success for others. I would have named individual members of the committee to bring them recognition for the success they create for artists at their art show.
But the historical building committee invited me to create failure for them, and I accept their invitation. I am using the historical building committee as an example of a crony clique focused on keeping their personal profit privilege to themselves. I am also offering my letter to the historical building committee crony clique as a template for other people to expose the true purpose of all crony cliques — protecting their privileges from people they see as outsiders and trespassers.
I will also refrain from increasing the committee’s success. As my income grows, I plan to be generous. I have built generosity into every sale from my online store. Using my own methods, I will be generous with people and groups in Portage County. If the historical building committee had treated me as an equal rather than as a trespasser, I would have donated money to the historical building. The committee chose to let me know that my “non-art” “stuff” documentary was far too inferior to include in their art show. Therefore, I will not force my inferior money on them.
First, some of the people who read this blog post will recognize members of the crony clique. I have used no identifying details in this post, but some readers will know whom I’m writing about.
Second, the determination of the historical building committee to create failure for me is evidence that they create failure for other people, both as a crony clique and as individuals. Failure begets failure, what I call “full-blown failure”. The crony clique members are living with more failure than what this blog post and letter will create for them. They are unlikely to completely understand the extent of the failures because much full-blown failure is done behind their backs. I am letting them know directly that I am creating failure for them because of the failure they created for me.
With this blog post I hope to make letters to crony cliques a common personal cost to crony clique members. Notice, however, that I am polite throughout my own letter to a crony clique. No name calling, no insults, no threats.
My Letter To A Crony Clique
To the 2007 historical building committee,
Please explain in detail what criteria you used to determine that my documentary is “non-art” “stuff”.
Please explain in detail what criteria you used to decide I was an “other”, as in “others’ materials”.
Please explain in detail how selling a documentary about a nonprofit is not a way of supporting that nonprofit.
Please explain in detail why I was told to ask for permission to sell my art at the historical building when no other artist had to ask for permission to sell their art at the historical building.
Please explain in detail why discussing my documentary at two meetings without my knowledge when you had ample time to include me does not fit the definition of “going behind my back”.
The only reason you could claim that I had gone behind your backs was that you had created a rule specifically to justify denying me the same personal profit privilege you maintained for yourselves. Please explain in detail your justification for creating that rule.
In 2009, the MREA celebrated it’s 20th anniversary. Please explain in detail what was unthinkable about showing my documentary history of the MREA as your summer movie and inviting founding MREA members to answer audience questions. The MREA could have sold copies of its book about its first 20 years. You would have shown support for the MREA by showing my documentary and selling their book. Why was that unthinkable?
If the MREA came to you with copies of my documentary and asked you to sell them so they could get their 50% of the profits promised on the DVD cover, how would you explain to them that my documentary is “non-art” “stuff” that does not support a nonprofit?
My documentary is both a history of the nonprofit MREA and a how to. It shows how ordinary amateurs with passion created spectacular success. The founding members of the MREA were all ordinary people who were amateurs at hosting a renewable energy fair, but they were amateurs with passion. Their amateur passion has created all kinds of successes for people, groups, and organizations in Wisconsin, in the United States, and around the world, including:
Friendships (and maybe romances)
Partnerships (and maybe marriages)
Skills for using renewable energy
New public policy on renewable energy in Wisconsin
Hands on learning for teachers
Workshops for kids
Service projects for community organizations
Economic boosts for local businesses during the annual energy fair
Portage County is a county of spectacular successes including but not limited to Trivia, the Green Circle, the College of Natural Resources, CAP Services, and the Suzuki Institute. Please explain in detail why it would be unthinkable for other Portage County amateurs with passion to learn the how-tos of spectacular success from the founding members of the MREA in my documentary.
I want to end by saying that I would prefer to write positive stories about the members of this crony clique. I have studied success and failure long enough to understand that my success is dependent on the success of other people. The more successful the members of the crony clique are, the more successful I can be. The crony clique members are intelligent people who have already created a number of successes in their lives. I know they are capable of creating more success than they’ve already created. They just do not understand that creating success for other people opens all kinds of doors to successes they did not know were possible.
I hope every single member of that committee comes to that understanding someday. We all benefit from other people’s success. We deny success for ourselves when we deny success for others. People who focus on one particular kind of success with the belief that achieving it requires excluding others will achieve only that one kind of success. People who exclude others lose out on all the other possible successes that the other people could have created for them.
To understand the possibilities of other kinds of success, read my post “Wrong Age, Wrong Color, Wrong Status, But The Right Person For The Job.” Anyone who has enjoyed the benefits of heart surgery is reaping those benefits because a black male teenage carpenter’s assistant enjoyed enough success in his life to develop the techniques and instruments for heart surgery. He taught those techniques and the use of those instruments to all of the first surgeons who wanted to learn heart surgery. And yes, it all began when he was still a teenager.
Good luck with your crony clique letters.
Paula M. Kramer
Resource Rock Star (See websites below.)
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Posts on this blog alternate with posts at the link below. Posts for both blogs are published on Wednesdays as they are ready to be published. Time between posts could be weeks.
Standards For Success Posters
Working With Others & Satisfying Others
Resource Rock Star Details