I had the great fun this weekend of attending my college reunions at Princeton. Among the many pleasures there was seeing one of my college friends, a woman known then (and now) for her unflinching social activism. When we were in school, she was the most vocal and active of all students about eliminating the vestiges of sexism and discrimination from campus. She was thought of as a rabblerouser, and by many, a disloyal troublemaker.
Princeton Reunions are annual for every class, and their centerpiece is the P-Rade: each class, led by the 25th Reunion, then oldest to youngest, walks down the lane between all the classes younger than itself, each in our own Orange and Black regalia.
Although Yale has always favored
The violet’s dark blue,
And the many sons of Harvard
To the crimson rose are true,
We will own the lilies slender,
Nor honor shall they lack,
While the Tiger stands defender
Of the Orange and the Black
You gotta see it.
As the years went by, and my friend came to our annual reunions year after year, the crowds’ reactions to her changed from jeers to cheers. For a while, the classes younger than ours welcomed my friend as a conquering hero. More recently, she has simply become accepted, and the younger classes don’t particularly seem to notice her.
And my friend keeps coming back to Reunions, year after year after year, wearing her Orange and Black.
So here’s a nugget from my Reunions for people who run compliance programs and people who run companies. Sometimes, the would-be reformers, the rabble-rousers, even the vocal troublemakers, are the ones who are most loyal to your organization. They have the greatest passion, and they wear it on their sleeve.
When they are on your case, think long-term. Consider: are they out to destroy you, or to improve you. If the latter, they will never be apathetic or back-bite. If you show them the door instead of giving them a seat at the Round Table, you will have lost one of your greatest defenders, and one of the most important allies any leader can have — someone on the inside who will tell you when you are full of it.
Till then with joy our songs we’ll bring,
And while a breath we draw,
We’ll all unite to shout and sing:
Long life to Old Nassau.