HR Enabler or Enforcer: A Refresher

News of widespread sexual abuse/harassment of women has hit the proverbial fan. No industry, organization or political party is exempt. While reprehensible, sexual harassment is not surprising. The objectification of women is clear in every culture on the planet Earth. Sexism, excuse the pun, is the ‘mother of all isms.’ Our culture is no exception. Sexism is “as American as apple pie.” Men hitting on women is nothing new. Men using their position and power to coerce women into bed is also nothing new.

What is new is that women in droves are now taking advantage of this moment in time to expose the heretofore powerful and untouchable men — who assume that women are ‘game’ that they can hunt and harass at their leisure or whim. Chasing and badgering women use to be “Game on!” and a uniquely male perk. Today, such behavior is quickly becoming taboo and career ending. The workplace has and remains the arena where sexual contact and conquest has enjoyed its longest run. Thus, the role of Human Resources is being brought into sharper relief.

The HR function must play two different roles, as both the agent of the company and the advocate of the employee. As the agent of the company, HR job is to represent the company’s vision, mission, goals, and decisions. Similarly, HR must protect employee rights while guaranteeing a workplace that is safe physically, psychologically and emotionally. Sexual harassment violates all three rules of safety—physical, psychological, and emotional. Given HR’s charter as the employee’s advocate, why is sexual harassment still so rampant in our companies and organizations? The answer is simple. HR is too close to the centers of power. The career trajectory of an HR professional, too often, depends on how well they ingratiate themselves to the powers that run the organization. Is the HR professional man or woman independent enough to take on an influential person rumored to be a sexual predator? Or, does the HR representative see the protection of an alleged harasser as part of their agent role versus investigating a sexual harassment claim?

Regrettably, too many in HR are fearful of taking on the big boys in the organization. The conflict is between doing the right thing for the complaining employee and their own career trajectory. They don’t want to alienate or piss off someone who could make or break their career. Thus, they end up soft-pedaling the complaint or casting doubt in the minds of the complainant about what happened. They might suggest that what happened is being misinterpreted by the woman or that the offending behavior was unintentional. The HR representative might even suggest that the event or situation resulted from something she did or wore. Sometimes, the HR person might pretend to take the complaint seriously and then give a friendly warning to the alleged perpetrator to cover his tracks or come up with a credible defense. The nexus of a professional relationship and friendship can undermine a serious investigation of the complaint. Even more disturbing to the woman is the real possibility that the burden of proof will lie with her and not the alleged harasser. Getting a reputation for complaining about a powerful man can be a career derailer.

As an advocate for employees, the HR professional should adhere to a consistent protocol when told about an alleged harassment claim. Explicitly, when informed of a potential case of harassment, HR should ensure the following steps become a part of the intake process when told about an alleged harassment incident:

1. Make no judgment about either the woman’s or the man’s character.

2. Do not re-interpret what the woman says as an attempt to sanitize her complaint. Record what she said and do not interpret what you think she said.

3. Without equivocation, ensure that an impartial investigation will take place.

4. Reassure the complainant you will make sure, regardless of the investigation outcome, that no recrimination against her will occur.

5. Objectively investigate the complaint and make the alleged harasser aware of the issue and the consequences, if found to be legitimate.

6. Keep the alleged harassers’ boss in the loop. Emphasize that there should be no contact with the complainant.

7. Early on protect yourself. Establish to all that you intend to be an ‘honest broker’ during and after the investigation. Let all know that after the investigation concludes, you will let the “chips fall where they may.”

In closing, the advice shared in this article, notwithstanding, investigating sexual harassment claims against powerful men is a dicey proposition. Always do the right thing. Still, watch your back.

The Real Rebel Flag

Flags are imbued with the values, sentiments and aspirations of the nations, states, cities, organizations or groups that honor and fly them. Often hoisted high above throngs of amped up individuals, the flag is a visible and material reminder of what a particular group stands for or values. Flags can evoke passionate emotions of love, hate or fear. Flags carry a very loud, non-verbal, yet, specific and irreducible message. In the USA, the American Flag carries the message that we stand for truth, justice and democracy. However, in other places around the world, our flag, unfortunately, carries the message that we are there to impose our way of life and values on the indigenous population whether they like it or not. Flags are not value neutral. Flags say what they mean and mean what they say.

The recent flap surrounding the Confederate flag is all the more surprising because we all know what it stood for and still stands for today. No, it does not represent youthful rebelliousness; nor, does it truly represent the heritage of a particular region of these United States of America; and, most importantly, it does not represent truth, justice and freedom. Put simply, it is the musty artifact of a defeated insurrection against our government. What the Confederate flag represents is the attempted perpetual dominion of one group of human beings over another group. In other words, the cry of the secessionist southern states preceded George Wallace’s “Segregation Now. Segregation forever.” Instead, the rallying cry of the boys in grey was ‘Slavery Now. Slavery Forever.’

Prior to the Great Migration of the 1940’s, the majority of African-Americans had toiled, been lynched, dehumanized and marginalized in the South. And, while their experience differed markedly from whites in the South, southern blacks have as much of a claim to Southern heritage as their more privileged white brethren. So, the argument that the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern Heritage is tantamount to saying that the Nazi Swastika represented German heritage. Lest we forget, Jewish people in Germany were Germans. So, clearly both the Swastika and the Confederate Flag represent a failed attempt to either eliminate a group of people or, in the case of blacks, to keep them as chattel property. Both flags are abhorrent reminders of man’s inhumanity to man.

For over 150 years, the victorious North has mollycoddled and enabled the defeated white South. Our central government allowed the wholesale disenfranchisement of black southerners, thus allowing white southern racists to control the most powerful committees in our national Congress. We permitted the construction of statues lining the streets of Richmond, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina and other southern cities paying homage to “war heroes’ intent on keeping my people in bondage. And, every day of a black southerner’s life, he/she must be reminded of those very men who sought to keep them as work animals. Again, it would be akin to having statues of Hitler and his generals lining the boulevards of Berlin.

No, the Confederate flag is not the symbol real rebels should adorn their homes and clothes with to assert their independence. Instead, how about hoisting the American Flag—the real rebel flag. While not always perfect in living up to it, the genesis of our national flag grew out of an aspirational vision: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal. Endowed by the creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness…”


Can You hear us Now?!

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And, let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

–Senator Barry Goldwater, Conservative Icon

If I say, “Save the Whales”, it doesn’t mean I don’t care about how tunas are hunted. No one would retort, “All Ocean Life Matters.” However, the slogan “Black Lives Matter” [BLM] has proved to be a source of irritation for a lot of White and Black Americans. For many, this defiant slogan is the ultimate example of playing the so-called ‘race card’. These same detractors see celebrating “white power” and a defeated and traitorous Confederacy as being patriotic. I have not heard anyone accuse those advocating ‘white power’ as playing the race card.

BLM has spawned a multi-racial, multicultural and multi-generational populist movement. BLM seeks to be an anti-racist movement that asks, “Can you hear us now?” They realize that for America to live up to its aspirational vision of justice for all, we must protect the most vulnerable in our society. What’s unique about the BLM movement is that it has deviated from the long tradition of national movements looking for a singular spokesperson. BLM groups are local, leaderless and pesky. However, local protests under the aegis of Black Lives Matter are subject to being infiltrated by apolitical hoodlums and political provocateurs. Additionally, the platform that the founders of the BLM movement have endorsed is controversial, even among Black Americans who believe in the importance of a nuclear family.

Systemic racism has resulted in Whites being either conscious or unconscious perpetrators of an unfair and discriminatory way of life for Black Americans. Conscious racism is unabashedly virulent in opposing justice for Blacks and other marginalized groups. No one in America can deny that Black lives are in jeopardy. Not only are rogue police to be feared, but Black lives are undermined by not having the same quality of medical care, food, housing, transportation, jobs and recreational outlets available to most white neighborhoods. The neighborhoods that many inner-city Blacks can afford are often terrorized by predatory gangs. Let’s get real. BLM applies not only to Whites who murder Blacks, but also Blacks who murder each other.

When the larger society does not value Black lives, the inner-city thugs think that they have a get -out- of- jail free card. We need to work together to stop these killings. As many neighborhood activists have done, Blacks must break the code of silence about Black on Black crime. To achieve this openness, the trust and relationship between the police and inner-city denizens must be improved. Unlike Whites, many Blacks are reluctant to call the police because they are unsure how they will be treated–even as the complainant. White Americans must actively become anti-racist. As a White American, declaring oneself anti-racist is more than a notion. Such a declaration is a radical and risky act. Anti-racist Whites must have both courage and a thick skin. Whites taking an anti-racist position will often alienate themselves from family, lose friends and incur the wrath of the conscious racists. This historical moment is a roll call for those who really believe in America as the “home of the brave and the land of the free.” When future generations look back on these times, what side will you be on?

Teach Our Children Well

“Who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark or the man afraid of the light.”

–Maurice Freehill

Every day, I find myself pondering, how on God’s earth did we as a society end up where we are today? I realize that social media has created multiple platforms for us to belittle and demonize each other. Anger reigns. Insults and name-calling have replaced thoughtful discourse. Unfortunately, the current POTUS regularly engages in bully tweeting and personal attacks. It appears that the prevailing mantra is “I don’t let the facts get in the way of my belief.” A snide put down has replaced a thoughtful response. We have found refuge in joining ideological tribes that will applaud and instigate our worst tendencies. At the extremes, the radical left and the radical right sound eerily similar. To these ideological extremists, there is no middle ground.

Today’s society looks and sounds worse than anything one would see on an elementary school playground. Yet, we adults, who are guilty of verbal rock-throwing, still insist on giving advice to young people on how to behave. Because of our reckless behavior, this tendency to give advice to our children is blatantly hypocritical. How can we talk to children about not being bullies; about not name-calling and respecting differences—physical, mental and otherwise? Kids are not dumb or clueless. They hear our words, but our actions overwhelm our pious advice. Essentially, we are saying to our kids, “do as I say, not as I do.”

Are we aware that we are creating a generation of hateful, spiteful and angry young people? It feels like we are robbing them of the ability to engage in constructive dialogue. We are promoting a style of discourse that seeks to set fire to the opposing point of view versus shedding light on a topic or issue. Talking heads on local and cable news shout over each other, refuse to answer direct questions and traffic in so-call alternative facts. Respect for another person’s opinion is now seen as a weakness. Verbal Cruelty is now used as a blunt instrument to beat the opponent into submission. I shudder to think about what type of leadership style will dominate when these children take over. However, for the record, I know that not all of our kids today are going over to the dark side. Because of them, I am hopeful.

In closing, I have not given up on our youth. In spite of the dire picture I have painted with my words, I realize that youth is very resilient and independent-minded. As someone once said, “You know great things are coming when everything seems to be going wrong. Old energy is clearing out for new energy to enter. Be patient!”

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Kwame Salter

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Kwame Salter

President at The Salter Group LLC

The Myth of Leadership

“There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

In spite of the voluminous amount of literature on leadership, we know precious little about what traits, aptitudes, and styles effective leaders should possess. We have yet to reach consensus on whether leaders are born or made; whether leaders are smarter or just luckier than their followers; and, whether physical attributes play a role in who is considered having leadership potential. Leadership remains an elusive concept. If results are lacking, poor leadership is relatively easy to spot. However, even poor leadership can be spackled over if results are meet or exceed expectations. How much credit should the nominal leader get for hitting the goal targets, creating a productive culture and unleashing the full potential of their people? With unsatisfactory results, can one be considered an effective leader? Does one become an effective leader by simply being promoted to a key position in the organization? Is organizational leadership restricted to high flyers and those in key positions? Finally, is there a specific leadership style that works better than other styles? Each of these questions beg even bigger questions—is leadership restricted to a certain caste or type of person or, most importantly, is it a difference-maker? Who should get the credit for organizational success or blame for falling short of objectives? My personal philosophy regarding credit and blame is simple. When things go right, the so-called leader needs to sit down, lower his/her profile and let the doers bask in a job well done. Similarly, when things go wrong, and they will, the leader should stand up and accept accountability for missed opportunities their team failed to see or maximize. The role of the leader is to provide direction, resources, and support to his/her work unit.

An effective leader is like a good referee and coach in a sporting event. They recognize that their role is to facilitate a contest free of rule violations without becoming disruptive to the flow of the game. Similar to an athletic contest, the business game is divided into four quarters. The players (workers) responsibility is to execute the game plan. In real-time, once the game starts, the leader becomes the referee and coach. During the game, leadership should shift to the workers who must make critical decisions at game speed. The hand off of leadership to the workers is fraught with anxiety for many in leadership positions. Often, they don’t trust their employees. This lack of trust often leads to micro-management interventions that slow down, confuse and frustrate. As a result, employees often find it safest to play dumb and wait to be told versus taking initiatives they believe would result in goal attainment. Consequently, the innate leadership abilities of the employee are stifled. Outside of work, many of these employees are leaders in their social groups, churches, synagogues, and temples. Instead of tapping into their natural leadership abilities, at work, these employees are often viewed as little more than programmed automatons.

This type of top-down and command-control environment shrinks, instead of enlarging the ‘solution space’ where creativity is housed. When we don’t allow employees to “bring their whole selves to work”, we blunt both their problem solving and problem finding capacity.In a real sense, leadership is the process of inspiring and cultivating new thought leaders. As Tom Peters said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” So, exactly, how does this transformation process work? Is there a secret elixir that combines all the elements of effective leadership into a working style? The answer is yes. The two most important roles of a leader are to (1) provide timely and clear direction, and (2) be a servant leader. Imagine a triangle pointing up [ Directional leadership] and another separate triangle pointing down [Servant leadership]. Based on the literature, when combined the new triangle looks like a Diamond. Practicing Diamond Leadership ensures that people know what the destination is and that they will be provided the support and resources needed.

If we tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results.”

–General George S. Patton

Directional Leadership

The tip of the triangle is pointing up because being a leader requires that we provide direction.When we think about being the boss, our thoughts usually start with a mental image of giving directions. We think of bosses always in the ‘telling’ mode. Bosses are notorious for telling people what to do, how to do it and when to do it. While, inevitably,leadership must lead; it is unnecessary to always assume that your charges don’t know how to get the desired results. If you are a receptive and supportive boss, your people will know they can ask for help on the ‘how’ without being labeled inadequate or, worse yet, incompetent.

“He who serves the most grows the fastest.”

–Andy Andrews

Servant Leadership

This triangle points down. The direction and attention are towards the follower. If there are no followers, there is no leader. The relationship between leaders and followers is inextricable.Leaders make demands on followers. However, while not explicit in making demands, followers have certain basic expectations of leaders. Specifically, followers expect leaders to provide a vision, a hope and an environment of trust. The servant-leader possesses a high Emotional intelligence( EQ). S/he believes, at their core, that, vis-à-vis their followers, their first role is to serve them. Their posture is to keep their “ear to the ground” and listen; to be responsive and supportive; and, create a nurturing and stimulating environment that encourages the follower to exploit his/her full potential.

Diamond Leadership

The Diamond represents the merger of Directional and Servant Leadership. Once you merge these two triangles and internalize them as an operating style and principle, you are well on your way to an effective management style. You recognize that a critical component of leadership involves being able to stand up and be accountable for tough calls. Equally important, you realize that your ultimate role is to support and unlock the potential of your people. As a Diamond leader, you will radiate and sparkle as a unique and valuable asset to the organization.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do and become more, you were a leader.”

-John Quincy Adams.