Monday, October 31, 2011

Ethical Considerations

The second half of the semester is going to be a reading-intensive purview and mentally taxing application of ethics. As I refit my lens I notice I am already observing ethics in action. For instance I saw a fascinating documentary called Long Lance. This is the story the National Film Board of Canada introduces as, "Was he a black man, a white man, or an Indian chief? This documentary looks at legendary and fascinating impostor Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance."

Prior to entering this graduate program I likely would have seen this in a less balanced view, automatically assuming it more black and white than it is; in fact my educated focus is not on blaming the imposter but questioning the organization that produces a man who will lie (with community silence) to escape the racial confines of society.

For me, knowing that Long Lance did not use his notoriety to swindle others out of money or cause deliberate harm helps me see the situation more favorably.  He was a talented writer and made some progress for better treatment of Canadian Indian tribes. It seems his intent was right but his content was wrong, and like many unsuccessful leaders he couldn't figure out why people didn't like him. In the health world of cleansing and detoxing it is a known fact that a person cannot be cleaner than his or her environment. Can leaders authentically be pure in an impure organization?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Organizational Communication (Semester Summary)

Organizations are a part of all our lives. Although we are often born into organizations and cultures, as individuals we do our best when we question our life purpose and our place in the organization. By doing so we recognize we have many choices in the organizations we join and the organizations we leave.

John O'Neill. The Man Who Knew. The man who saturated himself in knowledge, became an expert in his profession, and ultimately questioned the mission of his organization. O'Neill's communication style was interpreted through his flashy clothes, aggressiveness, and worldwide contacts. The verdict was O'Neill was not cut from the same clothe and he had sharp elbows. "You can get by with some sharper elbows for a while, but you need to be right a lot." James Kallstrom, former NY FBI director continues, "You can have those types of character traits -- you really need to have those to get the job done sometimes -- but there'll always be a comeuppance in bureaucracies if you exercise that too much and you don't restrain it."

The structure of the bureaucracy is described by the well-written text Strategic Organizational Communication in a Global Economy as one which is specialized, hierarchical, and centralized. For those individuals raised in societies with this structure it is seen as normal and natural. "As members of these societies mature, they learn that formal rules are necessary for the efficient operation of societies and organizations because they protect people from arbitrary or harmful treatment by more powerful people."

O'Neill's life-consuming expertise in counter terrorism led him to seek out a reorganization within the agency to draw more attention on the looming threat of Al-Qaeda. When he could find no internal support within the hierarchy and management of Louis Freeh and supportive, centralized associates such as Thomas Pickard, O'Neill's friends began to advise him to take his expertise to a field office. 
O'Neill did move to the New York office and worked for another career FBI person. His boss, James Kallstrom said, "I had a fairly low opinion of headquarters throughout my whole career. It seemed like, you know, the headquarters was a very negative place, where they would find a million reasons why you couldn't do something, as opposed to why you could do something. It was not the type of place where you always felt you were getting a lot of assistance." However, much to O'Neill's dismay, his reputation seemed to still influence the hierarchical decision makers choices during critical times.  In a painfully obvious manner such tasks were not assigned to John O'Neill, but to  agents who were not necessarily experts or as well versed in counter terrorism.

The semester text cites scholarly findings which, "found that when the environment is unstable and turbulent, the bureaucracy is too slow to adapt. Its formal structures, standard operating procedures, and centralized decision making limit its members' ability to recognized the need for change and make it inflexible when change is necessary." Robert Bryant, former FBI deputy director confirms, "The trouble with the FBI, it never knew what it knew. I mean, it had information, but it never got to the right places."

Watch The Man Who Knew on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

John O'Neill. The self-taught counter terrorism expert. The man who devoted his career and life to the FBI. The Man Who Knew. The man who spoke up. The man who was chased out of the FBI. 

Former colleague, Joe Cantamessa says,  "There is a difference between those people who spend time in an organization and are happy to make it to the top and have never rolled over a stone or created a problem or solved a problem, you know, just to carefully run through, and be there and be promoted. John was not like that."

No, John O'Neill was not like that. O'Neill spoke up. He told the hard truth. He consistently acted on his truth. Socrates advises us well in times of turmoil "All men's souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine." Many less resilient and hardy leaders have caved and fallen into mediocrity. As I read Socrates, people, organizations they can appear to do us harm but in truth the soul of a good person cannot be permanently tainted by the corruption of others. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gutsy Gals Who Speak Up

Several years ago I dove through Vicki Leon's Uppity and Outrageous Women books.  I've always admired anyone who spoke up or took deliberate action to make a difference.  For me, this exploration was a new look at history--one that included courageous women leaders!


New research indicates getting ahead in careers is different for women and men. Guess who all those self-help business books and coaching benefit more? While it is normal for men to be more successful when being proactive in their careers, this is not working well for women. As it turns out women must advertise their accomplishments and take credit for them. That can be difficult when women have been socialized to be just the opposite--and it cuts into actual time to do work, but come on ladies it must be done. Women are also more successful when they network with other influential women. While I am not pleased with this potential organizational inequality, I would like to introduce you to some gutsy gals who spoke up in a silent setting and through their courage brought richness to our world.

Of course we must celebrate the friendship and work of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton at work
Thank you ladies for ceaselessly advocating for a woman's right to vote! Here were two women who rightly flaunted their skills and accomplishments while bonding together to become stronger as a team and as individuals.

The next gutsy gal I'd like to celebrate is Michelle Peluso who as the CEO and President of her company guarantees she will respond to all correspondence from her 5,000 plus global employees within 24 hours. Ms. Peluso describes the best advice she ever received came from her father's living example: "Even as a little kid, I was struck by Dad’s obsessive interest in and care for the people who worked for him."

Julia Butterfly Hill on the other hand came into her life obsession when she was on her own. After a horrific car accident she asked herself what was she going to do with her life. She is most well known for her courageous stand to preserve and protect Luna--the beautiful ancient redwood tree and the small old growth forest surrounding it. She endured human antagonism, abuse, and a lot of cold, windy nights high up in the loving limbs of Luna. Julia Butterfly Hill has a powerful voice. She is so young but wise. Is it her innate gift to listen and respect the ancients that have blessed this woman?
Finally allow me to mention the lady who kicked off this series of thoughts which led to this post and celebration of gutsy gals. Christine Maslach. Does she sound familiar? She is an expert on organizational burnout and I highly recommend all leaders listen to her interview which identifies employee burnout indicators and how to avoid it in the organization. But that was icing on the vegan cake for me. Dr. Maslach is the lady who spoke up and whose voice indirectly ended the Stanford Prison Experiment. She recalls "I was sick to my stomach. When it's happening to you, it doesn't feel heroic; it feels real scary. It feels like you are a deviant."

I understand the excuses that enter our minds when we know the right thing to do is to speak up against a wrong. I'm not sure how we can knowingly create organizational cultures that foster this sick feeling--but we do. Time and time again. I do know that in the long run these organizations never last and people are never at their best. In any organization the leader has many tough choices ahead and behind her. Thank goodness for those gutsy gals who speak up and make that difference.