LEADING WITH COURAGE

I was working recently at a refinery, doing some work with a leadership team. The person in charge of the refinery was new in the role and had been there four months. He had changed the composition of his team, he’d brought in some new people, he’d promoted some people, removed some older people, and so I was working with the team to look at how do we set parameters going forward and very much focus around decision-making and unconscious bias in decision-making.

One of the things the leader did at the end of the meeting was to bring about 50 of the supervisors into the room. He then created a videoconference and a link to another site about three hours away, and he raised the topic of bullying and harassment with the supervisors.

He said, ‘I want to talk to you about this.’ He presented six slides. On each one of the slides was an incident that had happened in the last three months. It was very factual. This is what happened, this is what the operator said, this is what … and there was no emotion based on it. He just read the first slide, and he had other people read the other slides.

Two of the slides were, in fact, photographs of graffiti that were written on the walls, so, as you can imagine, they were quite rude, but it was read verbatim.

He then had a person on his leadership team talk about their experience of being a minority within the industry, which was very emotional. At the end of it, the leader said, ‘Okay. There were two perpetrators who were involved in this, and they have both been terminated.’ He finished the meeting by saying, ‘This is happening on our watch. And this ends. We are not going to take this on any more.’ And the meeting ended.

There was a stunned silence as people walked out of the room. When I debriefed with him after it, I asked him, ‘What was the reaction when you checked in with head office regarding what you were about to do?’ And he said he had a lot of pushback from head office. 

Head office was hesitant about him taking this bold move because they did not want to have issues with the unions. They said this behaviour had been obviously happening for years, and did we really want to do this now? Do we not have to support them, get things changed, et cetera?

His opinion was that, no, we were going to just take some bold steps and we were going to send the message out. Let me tell you, the message certainly went out to both the sites, to all team members. Within hours, everybody knew what was happening and the messaging was very clear that this sort of behaviour was not going to be tolerated.

I think this leader demonstrated moral courage. He was very clear about what was acceptable and what wasn’t acceptable. He demonstrated his values, and he stood firm. He had courage in moving forward with his convictions. 

As a global leader, there are times when we need to have moral courage. There are times when we need to speak up when we see injustice, inequality, unfairness, wrongdoing. It’s not about being judgmental, but it’s taking the stand on, ‘Does it fit with the values and ethics of the organisation? And does it fit with the ethics and values of you, as an individual?’ And if it doesn’t, do you then take the choice and say something, or do you stay silent?

Here’s my reflection point for you. What are your standards? What are the things that you are walking by and that you are accepting? And are there things that perhaps you need to be more courageous in speaking up about?

 

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