The Reality and Complexity of Dysfunction

The reality of the problem is that individuals and their actions place us in the position of intractability.  While many arguments may seem as if one person is being reasonable and the other not so, examining the core causes can often find where events occurred on both sides that brought discussion to an impasse.  That being said, however, there are in fact plenty of times where a key individual is the one obstruction toward working together.

Everyone has a boss, regardless of who they are.  The issue is whether “the boss” is engaged enough to see when intractability exists.  In the case of politicians, obviously their electorate is the boss.  Whether or not the electorate agrees that the politician is being unreasonable has to do with a number of factors.  Likewise, a fire chief has some sort of controlling panel or council they must answer to.  The same situation exists: if that entity feels as if the fire chief represents their interest, the problem isn’t with the fire chief, the problem is with that group of people.

This isn’t to say that the fire chief may not be autocratic, untruthful, manipulative, or exhibit any other unflattering characteristic, but as I pointed out, if their “boss” doesn’t see a problem with their mode of operation, it’s not going to matter how much you don’t like it.  The fire chief may well be acting illegally, unethically, or outside of what is considered a best practice, but aside from convincing that governing body that they too will suffer if the situation continues unabated, there comes a time when surviving the fallout may be in your best interest.

I can recall a time where I was advising an individual on a course of action regarding an out-of-control CEO they had to report to.  I kept pointing out that regardless of “how right” they were, the CEO was sufficiently entrenched.  While I advised the smartest thing would be to walk away, especially since the CEO was engaging in illegal activity, it took a lawyer to do the convincing.  Yes, it was emotionally challenging and yes, it seemed like abandoning everything they worked for.  However, when the CEO finally did meet up with legal trouble, that person was able to say they pointed it out, they were able to show their efforts toward reporting the actions, and the officers of the company failed to act on it.  Had criminality been determined to have occurred, hanging around could very well have been argued as complicity.  The lawyer’s advice was to give two weeks notice and get out of there before that individual became the scapegoat. It worked.

From the management side, there is also a consideration for when the labor issue is so dysfunctional that it can’t be fixed without the nuclear option. Walking away may very well be better for your career and your personal integrity than to go through the grinder, especially if the labor leaders have sufficient voice in the community.  This may sound like you are giving up, but there are times when things become untenable and again, as the focal point in the catastrophe, you will end up being the one who is hung out to dry, not the labor reps.  They will live to fight on another day and do the same things again to the next chief, and the next chief, and the next chief, until finally someone points out the consistency.  That won’t help your own situation, but there may be some comfort in standing back, alive, and saying “I told you so”.

Leadership is dangerous and leaders get attacked, not just professionally, but emotionally and yes, physically.  When you are going to engage in a battle where your opposition has made it more about you and less about the shared situation, you can be assured that in some form or fashion, you are going to get beat up in the process.  And just as you must do in any battle, one must gauge the enemy’s abilities, consider their strengths, and not permit an opportunity for them to exploit your weaknesses.

The act of going toe to toe with an adversary that wants you out of the picture is complex and requires significant consideration.  There will be attempts to portray your efforts as greedy, manipulative, power-hungry, selfish, and any other number of negative attributes.  There will be efforts to control the message, and that message will be that you don’t have the organization’s best interests at heart, that you don’t represent the side you are tasked with representing, and that your inflexibility is the sole reason for the impasse.  If you noticed, those are exactly the characteristics we have been saying are present in the toxic leader.

Therefore, when engaging with a side that has those attributes and is trying to deflect them on you, there are things you can do, like ensure transparency, maintain your cool, show magnanimity, and solicit open dialogue with those whom you represent.  If it is truly about the good and not about your personal ego, you will have no trouble finding a long list of people willing to stand up and defend you.  If you are having trouble with finding those individuals, it might be time to reflect on just why it is you are engaged in this battle.  Is it the cause or is it you?

Join us again on Monday when we move forward with our discussion.  In the meanwhile, I can see you are reading, but feel free to join in the conversation.  Have a great weekend.

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Deputy Fire Chief - Operations Division for Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services  National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Recent Posts
Career Change December 13, 2014
Think Fast November 29, 2014
Mick Mayers
Someone I Would Have Liked To Have Known
Ruth, Thanks for the comment, although like Tom said, you missed my point. What I was saying is that I am honored and impressed that someone who not so long ago would not have been given a chance - for reasons of race and gender- was given those accolades. She is someone I would have…
2014-12-12 11:24:00
Tom Bouthillet
Someone I Would Have Liked To Have Known
There are plenty of white males who don't deserve to be firefighters. The most qualified individual should get the job regardless of race or gender. That doesn't always happen for a variety of reasons that don't need to be hashed out here. But way to miss Chief Mayers' point entirely.
2014-12-11 12:08:00
Ruth Phillips
Someone I Would Have Liked To Have Known
I've heard of all of these "substandard candidates brought in to fill a role" taking the jobs from those who truly "desire the job and are willing to embrace the lifestyle of a firefighter." Do you mean people of color and women taking the jobs from the more deserving, uh, white male? I'm baffled as…
2014-12-11 04:21:00
Think Fast
My best friend once described flying in 'hard' IFR like being inside a giant ping-pong ball... everywhere you look, featureless white. I've appropriated that to describe people who seem to go through life in their own personal ping-pong balls. Apropos of the bumper sticker "I can't see you so don't pretend to be there."
2014-12-09 04:21:00
Mick Mayers
Leadership That Matters, Part 7
George, Thanks for reading! Yes, I'll actually do that this week. And I actually downloaded that same meme myself a few days ago- I like it.
2014-12-06 15:25:00

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Although I am affiliated or employed by certain entities, I in no way speak in this forum or others on behalf of those entities unless I have specifically stated such. Any implication otherwise is doing so contrary to my agreements with those entities. The result is that the observations and opinions by myself or on behalf of Firehouse Zen are not sanctioned by any other entity other than Graffiti Train Sherpa Publications and are protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America.

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