Since I began writing this blog some 18 months ago, I have become a cover-to-cover news junkie. I look for stories that capture my attention, especially those which have a common thread. When I find such articles, ones with a tangible connection to an intriguing theme, it becomes a column.
Case in point are three unlikely recent samplings from the News Tribune: the latest on the Petraeus scandal; a “Dilbert” comic poking fun at managers; an article about a Gig Harbor police sergeant currently suing her department for harassment.
The nexus which connects these three disparate topics is leadership, a trait which is easy to recognize, difficult to define, and becoming as rare as an honest politician, a competent public official or a selfless CEO.
Let’s begin with the Petraeus-Kelley-Broadwell triangle (or square, if you count General John Allen). The story has morphed from national security scandal into a pathetic joke involving an overabundance of flow charts. It has scorched the reputation of General David Petraeus, a soldier widely praised for his ability to motivate and inspire troops while managing billions of dollars in military assets, because he failed the litmus test of public trust.
Petraeus has become one more Shakespearean tragic figure, a victim of his own human weakness. His exit from the national stage included a concise acknowledgement of his own mistakes, and in this he showed real dignity. He may have strayed from the path of leadership, but at least he pointed out the wrong turn.
Moving on, I’ll let the “Dilbert” cartoon speak for itself (if you need a visual, picture an evil cat standing on Bozo the Clown’s desk).
Pointy-haired boss: “I’m more of a leader than a manager.”
Catbert: “That’s what all the bad managers say.”
Even without the characters, the context of the message is clear: In today’s workplace, where management and leadership are murky synonyms, the strip’s cynical joke works because the notion of leadership is, unfortunately, nothing more than a corporate buzzword.
Which brings me to the article (Trib 11/21) describing a recent lawsuit served on the Gig Harbor Police Department. Sergeant Sharon Cox, the department’s only female supervisor, filed a sexual harassment claim alleging, among other abuses, that subordinates illegally viewed her personnel file. That is a legitimate concern, however, the suit goes much further.
Cox also alleged that Chief Mike Davis told her to “expect to be given a hard time from the other officers” and cited instances where officers were insubordinate.
To be fair, breaking the mold is a tough job. But so is the challenging role of being a police sergeant which universally includes dealing with insubordinate employees. That facet is such a vital part of the job that promotional tests always include the “unruly subordinate” scenario. An inability to handle employee insubordination is as much a reflection on the supervisor as it is on the subordinate. It is certainly a matter unworthy of a lawsuit.
Cox’ subordinates also voted “No Confidence” in her leadership skills. That may be due to her response to a fatal shooting on the Key Peninsula on August 11. In that instance, Cox had reportedly been handling a hit-and-run collision when the shooting was first broadcast, but she delayed her response ten precious minutes as she finished her paperwork and notified her lieutenant of the call.
In hindsight, the paperwork can wait, and the lieutenant will understand if the call is delayed in lieu of public safety. Instead, Cox’ performance eroded her authority and in the resultant chaos she decided to sue. Is that the right course of action?
No. Absolutely not. We expect police officers, regardless of rank, to have the common sense to know what’s important, to immediately respond when someone is in serious trouble.
Just so, we want our military, political and corporate leaders to behave as role models, to put the best interests of their subordinates, constituents and employees at the forefront, to be role models who set the standard of behavior. Gender or race is unimportant- what we need are supervisors, managers, generals and chiefs willing to do more than simply show up to enjoy their perks.
We need them to lead.