Having just completed 6 rounds of Management Training (12 rounds of employee training) on Harassment and Ethics for a single client, I have this reflection: many leaders do not understand the liability they carry both personally and on behalf of their company. It was been an amazing few weeks. I was very fortunate and honored to be invited into the client company to speak with every employee and every leader regarding anti-harassment, discrimination and ethics. I did 12 one hour session with the employees and 6 two hour sessions with the leadership teams.
I was struck by how basic this information is and yet how uninformed most leaders were. In particular the newer, front line leaders had the least awareness and yet provide the greatest exposure to risk and the largest opportunity for improving morale and productivity. Their mouths dropped open, their eyes got wider, and they became increasingly fidgety as we went through the case study. Specifically, they learned the most about their role as a leader when becoming aware of employee misconduct – their failure to act and the consequences of retaliation.
These core skills of confronting and addressing disruptive, liability exposing behaviors should form the foundation of all leadership. And the absence of these skills means that any other leadership skills that they may possess are not grounded in the fundamental belief of fairness, dignity, and respect for all employees, customers, stock holders, vendors, and the community at large. If leaders cannot protect the employees and the employer from the basics of ”not looking the other way”, how can we expect other leadership techniques to be effective.
How can a safety program be effective if we are unwilling to prevent bullying behavior from Managers? How can a performance management program be effective if we are unwilling to treat each other with respect? How can an open door policy be effective when fear of reprisal exists?
Employee engagement is a nice concept. But let’s take care of the lower levels in the hierarchy of needs like safety and security by having enough respect to confront and address those behaviors that expose liability for employees and the employer first.