2006 Issue Number 86
Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.
We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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York State Women Firefighters Weekend September 21-24,
2006, New York State Academy of Fire Science, Montour Falls,
NY. Linda Willing will be presenting a workshop entitled “Command
Annual Conference of Fire Service Women, April 25-29, 2007
Oakland, CA. Go to www.wfsi.org
for more information.
Leadership and the Bottom Line
Good leadership isn't just a good idea. Studies of recent leadership failures and successes in private industry show definitively that good leadership is also a key factor in making companies profitable.
Analysis of failed CEOs from 2005 reveal a common theme. The leaders' problem wasn't just that they failed to produce good strategy for the company or missed earning projections. A closer look reveals other common threads. They were autocrats who were unwilling to share power. They treated their employees with contempt. They lost sight of day-to-day priorities within the company. They lacked people skills generally. And the bottom line reflected their shortcomings.
According to Dartmouth business professor Sydney Finkelstein, an expert on why leaders fail, the new model for leadership requires “someone with the highest ethical standards, who can lead by example, and who can build a strong effective team around him or her.” Organizations that have such leaders consistently outperform their competitors, in both good times and bad. Companies led by such people returned 758% over ten years, versus 128% for the S&P 500. In the past five years, difficult ones for most organizations, the S&P 500 lost 13% while the more visionary companies returned 205%.
The most successful organizations have leaders that inspire respect, loyalty and even affection, rather than fear. Leaders need to be farsighted, tolerant, humane, and practical. A leadership style that reflects these values is good for everyone: the employees, the leaders themselves, the customers, and ultimately, the bottom line.
Source: Fast Company, September 2005
In the past year, the EEOC has brokered two employer settlements that involved complaints of minority vs. minority workplace discrimination. Specifically, two different California employers paid damages to African- American workers who claimed they had been passed over for jobs in favor of Hispanics. According to John Trasvina of the Mexican-American Defense League, “Employers sometimes pit one group of employees against the other.”
Source: Business and Legal Reports, January 24. 2006
Harassment and Culture
Do cultural background and customs excuse or explain behavior that in a different context could be harassment? Consider the case of Dr. Robert Haddad, former president of the Caritas Christi Health Care System in Massachusetts. Over a dozen female employees of the organization claimed that Dr. Haddad had subjected them to unwanted hugs, kisses, and inappropriate comments, in violation of hospital policy. Dr. Haddad claimed that his actions were misinterpreted by the women, and that his Lebanese background made such actions not only acceptable but warmly given and received. He said he did not know he was causing anyone discomfort until the complaints were made. Although the hospital initially only reprimanded the doctor, as more complaints surfaced, the decision was made to fire him.
Did Dr. Haddad truly not know that his actions were inappropriate, or was he hiding behind the excuse that his cultural upbringing determined his sense of right and wrong? One would have to assume that he was an intelligent man, not only to be a doctor, but also to lead a large hospital. Certainly his ability to understand context, not to mention his willingness to follow rules and protocols, were contributing factors to his success. As someone with a different cultural background, he had learned enough about American culture to rise to the top of his field. Why then this blindness in one particular area?
Dr. Haddad said he was “stunned” to learn of the complaints. And perhaps on some level he was. People do have different attitudes and values about social interactions that can lead to discomfort and misunderstandings. Some people stand close when they talk; others are more comfortable an arm's length away. Some people are more “touchy” than others, wanting to place a hand on an arm when speaking, or to pat someone on the back when praising them. But everyone in a professional environment must understand that welcoming such physical overtures
is in no way a job requirement. The law is very clear that unwanted physical contact is a quantum leap above hostile environment that is created with words alone. Physical touch when unwelcome is dangerous ground indeed, and if there is no need for it, then it should be avoided in the workplace.
Dr. Haddad should have known better. And so should everyone else who chooses to impose their personal standards of physical intimacy on others in a professional environment.
Source: Business and Legal Reports, May 25, 2006
Linda F. Willing, 2006