Managing the Cultural Mix III: On Personal Responsibility

By Bennie Crane

Viktor Emil Frankl, MD., Ph.D was Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School. He practiced what he called logotherapy, which differed from psychotherapy in that, instead having his patients lie down in a comfortable position and ask them what their problem were, he had them sit in a straight-tback chair and tell them what was wrong with them. He says that there are two kinds of people; “those that are responsible and those that are irresponsible. People that behave irresponsibly and expect the same results that they would have had, if they had behave responsibly, are insane.” That is straightforward enough. Frankl continues:. “It is irresponsible behavior to buffer one from the logical consequences of their behavior.” Here is where most of us get in trouble.

Most of us, as leaders, parents, or group members have tried to save others from the logical consequences of some misdeed; in doing so we then run the risk of becoming enablers. Irresponsible or unacceptable behavior must have consequences. This does not mean that the punishment for those behaviors has to be severe. I like to think that progressive discipline would be in order. The discipline should be appropriate to the offense. In some cases, it’s enough to inform the offender that his behavior is unacceptable. I have attended discipline procedures where the accused did not know that his behavior was unacceptable. In such case, this constitutes training or administrative oversight. We must empower our people with effective training and even-handed administration of department policies. Let’s tie this back to the first installment of this series, in which we learned that, as human beings, each of us has the ability to behave in a responsible and acceptable manner by using our natural human endowments effectively. This provides a foundation for us to play by one set of rules. This is illustrated the statement: The name of game is baseball. Do you know the rules? Would you like to play? If you don’t know the rules, we will teach them to you, but we will play by one set of rules.

Dr. William Glasser says that our behavior is driven by our efforts to fulfill the basic needs of security, love, and belonging, To be worthwhile to ourselves and others, power, freedom, and fun. Fulfilling these needs without blocking others from fulfilling theirs is said to be responsible behavior. Not fulfilling them or blocking others from fulfilling theirs is said to be irresponsible. Our challenge here is to satisfy our needs without blocking others from satisfying their needs.

The quality of a human relationship will increase to the extent that we do not interfere with others in their quest to feel a sense of significance, growth, love and connection; to experience variety and certainty; and to contribute.

Very often acts of repression, rejection, resentment, and resistance prevent others from allowing one to experience those things that will increase the quality of relationships. Many times this can be because we do not realize the negative impact of our thoughtless behavior. At other times, we may deliberately block another from the opportunity to have a positive experience with the aforementioned acts just because we can. This can be an irresponsible means of fulfilling one’s need for power. Resentment is said to be the major cause of conflicts and other problems among people.

The Rage/ Guilt Syndrome

There are many situations that result from one person feeling a sense of guilt because of overreacting or excessive behavior toward another. This leaves the other person feeling a sense of rage because of that behavior. In our private lives such encounters include conflicts between parents and children, husbands and wives, and siblings.

In our public lives we are faced with blacks versus whites in affirmative action cases. All citizens should be given the opportunity to fail. How does the opportunity to fail differ from the opportunity to succeed? They are the same, don’t you agree? Affirmative action laws were put in place to provide opportunities for those people that were traditionally denied them or placed at a disadvantage to receive them.

Most reasonable people will agree that the affirmative action laws have been effective, but the successes of these programs have not been without pains for some of us. In some instances, white people have had promotions delayed or denied them for departments to meet affirmative action quotas. One can certainly understand the rage of the victims of such a process. What is underreported or unrecognized is the guilt felt by members that benefit from the process. I know of one case in the Chicago (IL) Fire Department (CFD) in which a lieutenant waived an affirmative action promotion in favor of waiting to be promoted without passing over any other members.

The pressing question today is, “When should affirmative action end?” The answer to that is, “When society recognizes that the failure of a minority member is not indicative of the shortcomings of that person’s group as a whole,” that is, “they are not all like that.” An individual fails as an individual; this does not mean that all members of his group are failures. When a member of the ruling group fails, his failure is not considered a reflection of his group. When members of minority groups are recognized as individuals and not merely members of a group, society will have come a long way toward making affirmative action laws unnecessary. The solution could be as simple as recognizing individuals as equally entitled the rights and dignities afforded all members of the organization, holding each one accountable and responsible for their behavior as individuals.

The dehumanization of minorities is at the core of most racial issues in the United States. Minorities are struggling for recognition as human beings. It was the dehumanization of the African slaves in the Atlantic slave trade, as slavery in America was known, that was the difference between slavery in the rest of the world, which still exists to this day. In many other societies, slaves are recognized as human beings that can work their way out of slavery. Many of today’s slave owners were once slaves themselves. All human beings have the ability to behave in a responsible manner, should be held to one standard, and have their behavior evaluated by one set of rules. I have found that most people were comfortable with this type of arrangement even when their behavior came into question and had to be addressed. As a society, we continue to work on undoing the damage cause by slavery and the Dred Scott court decision, which stated,”No Black person has any rights that a White person is bound to respect.” That decision was wrong, and just as we have enjoyed the benefits of the good decisions made by our forefathers, we have a responsibility to correct the mistakes that they made.

I have noticed a game that is played out in many places in our society, where white people enjoy a perception of being born with a sense of superiority and black people are born with a perception of inferiority. The stage is then set for some black people to play along with these perceptions, on the condition that they not be held to the same standards of behavior because of their “inferiority.” This is as if to say to white people, “Go on, enjoy your superiority, and let us play by our own set of rules. When you hold me accountable and responsible to your standards, I will call you a racist, since calling white people racist makes many of them very uncomfortable.” It is important that we understand that being accused of being racist or sexist do not meant it is true. To give one special considerations or treatment, good or bad, because of their race or sex is a definition of racism or sexism.

Let me share a real-life experience. As a district chief with the CFD assigned to the 4th district, I had the administrative responsibility for 600 members working on 27 fire companies in 17 firehouses. Less than five percent of these members were minorities or women. There was a black firefighter that boasted that he did not have to behave in accord with department policies. His white lieutenant reported the problem to me through his chain of command. I had made a personal commitment to each member of the district that I would protect them when they are right and correct them when they are wrong. The lieutenant was directed to document the firefighter’s unacceptable behavior and to follow department policy of reporting the unacceptable behavior of member under his command in writing. It is important that supervisors not get caught up in the attitudinal or emotional facet of the incident. The firefighter in question filed a complaint with the department’s Equal Employment Opportunity officer. His complaint stated in the 4th district, which was headed by the black district chief, a Klu Klux Klan cell was operating. I have been retired for more than 10 years and have not heard any more of the complaint. It is not widely know that minority supervisors are exposed to assaults from both whites and blacks who are uncomfortable with black faces in high places. So, playing by one set of rules is not only the right thing to do–it is necessary for survival.

My concept of “No Fault Resolutions” to diversity issues requires that both white and black people give up their claims to the false perceptions of superiority and inferiority, and start from a level playing field allowing each individual to earn his superiority or inferiority by his behavior as measured by one standard that is equally applied to everyone. We enjoyed a measure of success in the 4th district using this concept, as indicated by the waiting list of people requesting transfer into the district and the low number of requests for transfers out of the district. I just think it is time to stop looking for faults and fix the problem. Yes, it is a difficult task, but I think it is doable. The sooner we get started, the better.

Attitude vs. Issues

It is said the most conflicts are eighty percent attitude and twenty percent issues. I ask you to think about those numbers for little while. Then ask yourself, “How do they change after the parties to the conflict have a few beers or cocktails?” The important point to remember is that part of the attitude is yours. Withholding or controlling your attitude reduces tension and the sooner that issues are addressed the sooner a resolution can be reached. At that point we should be able to, at the very minimum, agree to disagree without being disagreeable. Attitude relates to feelings, the emotional component of a situation, which is very difficult to express in clear definitive terms. Issues are the solid material component that can expressed in clear, definitive terms.

When resolving conflicts, it is important to remember that no one has more responsibility for protecting your interests than you. We must be careful that we do not unnecessarily damage relationships as we protect our interests. We must do what we need to do to protect our interest without doing anything that we don’t absolutely need to do. I refer to this as the universal rule of engagement. We do not have to have done anything to cause the conflict, but once we are involved, there are two choices for us to make: when and how we are going to deal with it. These decisions should be based on the condition that you would like the relationship to be in when it is all over.

Do we have all of the facts? Are they accurate? Are the terms used defined the same way to all concerned? Do we all perceive the information to mean the same thing? Do we all agree on the methods used to complete the project? Have the goals been explained and accepted as important by all concerned?
These are some of the critical questions that must be answered as we move toward an effective conflict resolution. Verbal communication is an abnormal act in the sense that what we say is based on our upbringing and filters that we learned during our development, and how the listener interprets our words depends on their upbringing and the filters that persons learned during their development. In light of this, it’s surprising we communicate as well as we do. The underlying factors of most conflicts are informational (do we all have the same, accurate information?) and perceptual (do we all perceive this information to mean the same thing?).

In conclusion, let me ask a question. Is the glass half-full or half-empty? If your goal was to empty the glass, it would then be half-empty. If your goal was to fill the glass, then it is half-full. In a similar manner, your personal and organization goals are critical to your behavior as you move on with your life. A personal mission statement will help you clarify your personal goals and keep your outward behavior in concert with your innermost desires. I hope that you will experience an increased harmony and power that comes from a mission statement created for you and by you. An organization’s mission statement will help managers clarify the organization goals and guide its members so that their behavior will be line with the organizations goals. I have included here outlines for both a personal mission statement and an organization mission statement.

Creating a Personal Mission Statement

1. Plan an award dinner for yourself. The dinner may be scheduled at a time of your choosing next month or next year.

2. You are to name the five most important people in your life and the role that they play in your life. You may have fewer, but not more than five. They will each make a speech about you.

3. Write their speeches for them. Write out what you would want them to say about you. Edit these statements into a single narrative. Use the statements as a basis to establish the behavioral objectives of your personal agenda by identifying the behaviors necessary to achieve the results described in the speeches.

4. Identify a motto to guide your behavior. Combine the motto with the behavioral objectives created in step three to complete your personal agenda.

5. Seek out opportunities to make the content of those speeches be true using the personal agenda that has been created to guide your behavior. This your agenda created by you and for you.

The Test

Each time you read your personal mission statement you should be inspired to continue, moving on, looking for opportunities to meet the objectives of your personal mission statement. If you are not inspired after reading your mission statement, it is time create a new one.

Creating an Organization Mission Statement

1. Plan a recognition dinner for your organization to be held at a chosen time, next week, next month, or 12 months from now.

2. Identify the speakers you would like to speak about organization and the roles that they play in the organization’s operations. Speakers may include the mayor, the village manager, trustees, citizens, or others who might be important to the well-being of the organization.

3. Write their speeches for them. Write out what you would like them to say about the organization. Edit these statements into a single narrative. Use these statements as a basis to establish the behavioral objectives of the mission statement by identifying the behaviors necessary to achieve the results described in the speeches.

4. Identify a motto that would guide the behavior of the organization’s members. Combine the motto with the objectives that were created in Step three to complete the mission statement.

5. Seek out the opportunities to make the content of those speeches true using the mission statement that has been created to guide the behavior of your members.

The Test

Each time the mission statement is read, the members should be inspired to continue, looking for opportunities to meet its objectives. If members are not inspired after reading the mission statement, it may be time create a new one. It is important that the mission statements be updated as needed.

Bennie L. Crane is a field instructor with the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute. A popular speaker and certified facilitator, Crane began his fire service career with the Chicago Fire Department in 1961 and retired as district chief in 1995. He is the author of Personal Empowerment: Achieving Departmental and Individual Excellence from Pennwell’s Fire Engineering Books.

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