Leadership Challenge 7/9/12

WalkTheTalk.com’s
 Leadership Lessons Blog Challenge

Answer the following “what would you do?” leadership question (as a comment below) for a chance to win a FREE COPY OF the beautiful Walk the Talk hard-cover gift book. We will announce the winner next week on here and through email. Now….here is today’s Leadership Challenge question…

A gay employee is accidentally “outed” when co-workers see a photo of him marching in a pride parade in the local newspaper. Since then, he has come to you complaining that some of his co-workers are treating him poorly and creating an uncomfortable working environment. He requests that you refrain from telling others that he came to you for fear of further negative consequences but asks for your help in resolving the matter.
As a leader, what would you do?

Comment below (by Midnight July 12) with your answer for a  chance to win a Walk The Talk gift book. Winner will be contacted via email and posted here next week. Anyone can post but we can only ship the winning book to a U.S. address. Thanks for your responses.

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  • Laurie S

    In order to protect the person’s privacy, I would speak to the co-workers individually and speak vaguely about the details but specifically about the expectations. I would say that it has been brought to my attention that the photo is out there and that some negativity in the workplace has resulted. I expect you to remain professional and not be involved in any such behavior. I would appreciate your help in diffusing this type of situation if others should start it but at the very least, you walk away from it and not allow it to become anything. Everyone is to be treated with respect.

  • Luis T

    I would have a meeting with the co-workers and remind them of the importance of being professional at the work place. I would, if we had a workplace violence policy, explain the importance of respecting all at employees at work. I would also explain what ethics was all about. I wold add that it is important to understand this in order to continue being employed here!

  • FFSatty

    I would listen empathetically to the employee’s complaints and ask specific “who,what, when, where” questions to determine the scope of the problem. (As an involved leader, I hope I would already be aware of obvious harassment and would have already addressed it, but given the hidden nature of some harassment, that may not always be possible.) I would also express understanding of his desire not to make waves that lead to further co-worker problems. If the behavior involves comments that one might make meaning to be humorous or cute, or the result of ignorance and unintentional, I would advise the employee on appropriate ways of communicating tactfully that the comments are offensive to him. I would also plan to include gay awareness/sensitivity training as a topic at upcoming regular training in the office; this would enable me to emphasize appropriate behavior, unequivocally, to the entire team, without pointing an accusing finger at anyone and without bringing any attention to the gay employee’s complaints. As a matter of business sense, all team members would be advised during training that insensitive behavior is not only hurtful to individuals, but can cause loss of business with customers and can hurt the productivity of the team.

    At the same time, if the offensive behavior is egregious, such that it clearly violates existing law on harassment in the workplace or violates a clear organizational rule, I would explain to the gay employee the necessity of my taking appropriate disciplinary and documentary steps, for the protection of the organization and of other employees or customers who might be subjected to the same type of behavior. (Some types of behavior might be subject to an automatic dismissal policy, and I would be derelict in my duties if I failed to act.) I would assure him that the law prohibits retaliation against him for bringing the matter to my attention, and that any retaliatory behavior would result in termination of the employee and legal action, if necessary.

  • Smithgvnj

    It depends on the current company culture or overall tolerance or lack of tolerance of gays or lesbians in the work place.  If this is just a couple of guys feeling insecure and want pick on people that are not like them then this should be addressed to those individuals alone. I would schedule sexual harassment, bullying and consideration of others training for those involved.  I will also let the culprits know that further negative behavior could result in their termination.   I will explain to to victim that all the details of our conversation will be kept confidential, but understand that people speculate and it could be worse.  I will advise the victim not to be ashamed of himself; be proud of who you are.  If this problem is bigger than just a couple of people then mass training or refresher courses on the above subjects will be necessary. I would have the culprits or ordinary workers teach the subjects with my guidance. This will allow further research and better understanding of the subjects.  

  • LeaderLin

    This must be taken very seriously because of the allegation of creating a hostile work environment. I would advise the employee that it is my responsibility to refer his concern to our Human Resources department for a confidential investigation. I would ask the employee if he would be willing to discuss his concern directly with the HR manager / designee or if he would prefer that I initiate that contact. Mattering on the work setting and contact, it may be necessary to protect the employee during the investigation by altering the work setting, suspending the alleged abusers with pay until the investigation is completed. These may seem to be drastic actions, but if you fail to take these precautions, you could find yourself and your organization on the losing end of a lawsuit.

  • Annette B

    I would invite the employee to meet with me in a space outside of our department so that I am being intentional about him feeling safe as well as keeping his conversation with me confidential. During this meeting, I would listen to what the employee has to share with me, ask good, open-ended questions and take notes so that I have good information. I would be sure to repeat back what I am hearing as to ensure I am receiving the message in the way in which it is being sent and also to clarify anything that needs further clarification. I would not use the incident as a means of asking about his sexual orientation, but would focus the nature of our conversation on the alleged behaviors of the other employees and how the incident(s) have impacted him and his ability to do his job. I would make it very clear to the employee that he has my total support, that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and that I will be taking steps to ensure that others hear this message from me as their leader. I would offer resources to the employee so he has other means of support outside of myself. If there is an anonymous manner in which the employee can file a “hate and bias” incident report, I would also encourage him to do so. In an effort to allow the employee to take some ownership in the way the situation is handled, I would inquire from him as to what things he thinks I can do to make him feel safe and comfortable in his work environment. At the same time, I will inform him of ways in which I plan to deal with the situation. I would further inform the employee that I will need to have this conversation with my supervisor so that s/he is aware of what’s going on (I will commit to not sharing names, only the situation). Taking into account what the extent of this incident is there are other things that I may need to do based on whether or not the law has been broken, company policy violated, etc. Ways in which I could deal with this situation is incorporating some training into our already established staff meeting time or professional development meetings. I could also create a team of staff that would be responsible for issues of Social Justice and Inclusion and together we could work to provide trainings as well as encourage employees to not tolerate any type of insensitive and/or hurtful behaviors towards other employees.

    Utimately, I want the employee to know that I, as the direct supervisor, will not support this type of behavior in our department. I will make sure that the message comes directly from me to the entire staff as it is important that as the leader in the department, it is clear what will and will not be tolerated and that acts of hate, bias, bullying and bigotry will be dealt with up to and including termination (if company policy supports it). I strongly believe that leadership trickles down and if I don’t exude the behaviors that I expect of my staff, they will emulate what they see in me.

    Lastly, I will let the employee know that I am available to him if/when he needs to talk to me and that he can count on me to be an advocate and ally for him.

    • Nicole Schoychid

      Very well said!!

  • Kendall

    In my mind this is much easier to address since the document was a publisized picture. My thoughts would be to casually set with the employees that are creating the issue. I would address the article as one in which I too saw. This should generate some discussion from the employees. This opens the discussion without implicating the affected employee. I would use a thoughtful approach to those creating the stir and then gently remind all that we have an obligation to each other as well as our organization to treat all with respect and courtesy. I would use the “Team Concept” and remind all that we are all diverse in every aspect and its through each other’s contributions that we are successful no matter what the religious, or sexual orientation. The greatest thing is to respect each other even if we don’t agree totally.

    I would follow up with each individual to allow them the opportunity to express their feelings. Most people will “vent” but can still treat each other with respect. I view conversations with employees as that with the “Doctor/Patient” priveledge. I would address their issues with understanding but remind them that we are all co-workers therefore it’s vitally important to our business that we refrain from any derogatory remarks or jokes. This would give me the opportunity to see if the affected employee has noticed a change in everyone’s behavior. If not then a general meeting reviewing company harrassment poilicies should be a focal topic. A leader’s responsibility is to provide the environment for all to succeed.

  • Cousvito

    The situation must be confronted directly. While every effort should be made to protect the employees confidentiality, he must be told that since he brought it to my attention, I cannot guarantee that. Workplace rules and laws against Harassment must be enforced. We don’t know how many employes are working here, but if it is a manageable number, a meeting should be held with everyone. I would say that I have seen the photo and that it has been brought to my attention that employee X has been subjected to harassment as a result. I would make it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated and that any future harassment will be dealt with according to workplace rules or state and federal laws. I would follow this meeting up with some mandatory programs/workshops for all employees regarding discrimination and harassment.

  • walkthetalk.com

    Great responses…Thank you!

  • Nicole Schoychid

    WOW….some excellent responses. Thanks to everyone who responded. This weeks winner was FFSatty! Congrats.