In The Spotlight – And Not In A Good Way
I recently had the opportunity to participate as a neutral factfinder in what would commonly be considered an “EEO” complaint. The process from that perspective brought back not so fond memories of a prior experience when I was actually a party to the fact-finding. Being in the “good” chair this time instead of the spotlight, and working with people who were total strangers to me prior to the issue in question, suggested for me a number of lessons worth passing on in this forum.
There are a couple of tips that come to mind to avoid being in the hot seat. First, know your policy. Not all policies are created equal, but in general your policy should tell you what is prohibited and what you in your role are required to do about it when it comes to your attention. I can’t think of something that should be more clearly tattooed on your brain than those two items. EEO policies exist for the same reason it says to not wear the shirt while you iron on a sticker. While it may be obvious to people who read leadership blogs that harassing or discriminating against people because of their race, gender, age, etc., is not cool, it happens. And when it does, good leaders should react the way they are supposed to. (We could chicken and egg that argument a bit further but I think you understand me).
Next, it is likely that as part of your response, you need to inform your boss what is happening. If that boss runs the show, and has the authority to begin a formal inquiry into whatever you are telling them, things are about as on track as they can be. On the other hand, if your boss has a boss, who may have a boss, I advise you to be very clear and direct in asking about what the expectations are of you going forward. The last thing you want to hear a month from now is “why didn’t you tell anyone?”. Again, know your policy. If it has a calendar or timeline, you better be sure when that timeline has started, or if it has started.
From my most recent perspective as the outside trying to get to the bottom of the story, what is very clear to me is that these things sometimes take on a Rashomon-esque quality with everyone having differing perspectives on what is happening, or has happened. At the core is what happens when communication breaks down between two people, or an entire team. Honesty in the workplace is certainly a desired outcome, but often, people don’t feel they can be honest with eachother. Being the new guy, being the only guy, being the different guy, can all lead to someone holding on to something bad, or that made them feel bad. Over time, that feeling becomes the lens that everything is viewed through so the benefit of the doubt you might grant someone under normal circumstances is no longer happening. Eventually, this situation is going to “viral” and it’s game on.
Regardless of the type of team you have, and the service or product you provide, the strongest teams are the ones who value diversity. Whether in person, or in thought, unless you serve a niche market of left-handed Kansas lawyers, your ability to reach, understand and affect everyone will be a product of your team’s strength. With diversity comes the responsibility to protect, respect, and honor your teammates and ensure that however your process what you do, that protection, respect, and honor is a core value.
As leaders, you have the dual responsibility to create an environment that values everyone’s contribution, and to act, quickly, when that is threatened. It goes beyond knowing the magic words that trigger a visit from human resources, but in truly valuing what is being protected.