“I’m disappointed but firing them is not an option.”
We’re back with another publication of Leadership Fail Statements, a gemisode series dedicated to examining the impact and harm of the actual statements made by organizational leaders in response to issue(s) that were brought to their attention. If you missed parts 1 and 2 of the first gemisodes dropped in this series, you can check them out here and here.
By examining statements of failure, “our goal is to bring awareness to harm and educate those in positions (and those on their way) of power” on how they can better demonstrate the values of leadership while creating more consciously inclusive environments. As always, we approach examination and then provide alternative suggestions to the statements under examination through the lens of AJEDI-B™ (Accessibility, Justice, Empathy, Diversity, and Inclusion, without which there can be no true Belonging).
When an employee reaches out to you after gathering the strength and courage required to speak up about their experience(s) of harm to include racism, bias, and prejudice at the hands of another organizational leader, your response should NOT be, “I’m disappointed but firing them is not an option”. This statement is wildly inappropriate and communicates the following: 1) speaking up is pointless 2) company rhetoric around inclusion and upholding a zero-tolerance culture as it relates to discrimination and other exclusionary behaviors is a lie and, 3) protecting those the organization views as more valuable comes before all else.
“I’m disappointed but firing them is not an option” and other similar statements may further destabilize the harmed party even more. The ability to uphold stated values as demonstrated by your words and actions is vital to effective leadership which is based on the ability to influence. Therefore, any leader who demonstrates an inability to hold firm to outcomes-based accountability measures, does not need to be in a position of leadership.
Leaders who fail to act appropriately in times of trouble not only erode trust but put at risk their credibility, stated organizational values, reputation (personal and organizational), employee engagement, innovation, and profitability. In an HBR article about the high cost of lost trust written two decades ago that is still relevant today, researchers surveying a hotel chain seeking to discover whether there was a correlation between employee trust in leadership and profitability found that, “hotels where employees strongly believed their managers demonstrated the values they preached were substantially more profitable than those whose managers scored average or lower… no other single aspect of manager behavior that we measured had as large an impact on profits”.
Struggling to come to terms with the reality of what accountability (including terminating the offender) may mean for the business does not absolve a leader from the responsibility of responding in a way that demonstrates their alignment with stated organizational values. Leaders have both an ethical and operational obligation to act and can demonstrate this by:
- Acknowledging the experience and thanking the person for sharing it.
- Refraining from making statements that highlight their personal biases, prejudices, and preferences.
- Providing assurances that the matter will be investigated thoroughly (an outside firm or consultant may be required). Do not make promises or assurances you can’t guarantee.
- Outlining the investigating process to include providing the names of those who may reach out, asking what the victim’s expectations relative to outcomes are and making clear what details, if any, would be shared with them post investigation.
- Asking (not telling) about the victim’s preferred method of communication and the types of support (be open to… time off, reassignments, counseling etc.) they may need.
Stay tuned for part 2 where we provide an inclusion-anchored alternative response statement for this failed leader.
Inaction is still an action.
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