In a Burlington Post article of January 28, 2021, there was an interesting comment by the Halton Police Board Chair “I think it’s important to establish that one error in judgment does not leave a legacy”. The survivors of US Airways Flight 1549 piloted by Captain Sullenberger and the victims of Captain Schettino on the Costa Concordia would disagree with that statement. A single judgment can mean life or death. Thanks to the judgment of Captain Sullenberger that returning to the airport was not the best option but rather ditching the plane on the Hudson River, all 155 people on board survived. Captain Schettino’s judgment to sail the vessel through water that was too shallow caused the rescue of more than 4,200 people and the deaths of 32 people. The Captain, who did not go down with the ship, was later charged with a crime.
Leaders must follow the rules
We expect leaders to set an example. We expect leaders to follow the same rules that they set out for their staff, rules that they promulgate to others. In the case of the Police Chief, the Halton Police shared multiple tweets to follow public health advice and stay home, not to mention not to travel internationally including the hot bed of covid in the United States. So how did the leader of the police service arrive at the decision to travel to the United States? Similarly for members of federal and provincial parliaments and CEOs of hospitals. We expect the supervisors (the Board) to appropriately take action when the leader does not conduct him or herself in that spirit.
What is expected of a leader in an organization with thousands of employees and thousands of members of the public relying on them to set the tone of safety and obeying the standards set out for the public? Are these leaders above those rules? Are the rules only for the little people of society?
A leader is expected to inspire his/her team. They are expected to demonstrate high performance in their own responsibilities and adhere to high ethical and moral standards. They are to foster innovative thinking and fulfill the duties assigned to their organization (not just themselves). They are to model the values of the organization. They are to encourage and empower others to perform and hold them accountable. They are to develop and mentor their staff. They are to adapt to change. They are to demonstrate high emotional intelligence including self-awareness, self-regulation, behavior, empathy and social skills.
Board chair approval not enough
The news stories mention that the police chief and the CEO’s vacations were approved by the former Chair of the Board of Directors. This is a technical step. The Board Chair would presume that the leader of the organization makes an assessment of the external and internal context to know if it is reasonable for the CEO to be on vacation. The dialogue often goes like this: Dear Chair – I am advising that I will be on vacation for the week of December 21. During that time, John Doe will be the acting CEO. The Board Chair will often respond – thank you for letting me know and I will communicate with John Doe during that time. Does a Board Chair have to “audit” the wisdom of the CEO in his timing of this vacation? Is it a requirement that the CEO tell the Board Chair where he will be physically given that the Board Chair always has their cell phone number in order to contact them? This is the most senior person of the organization and if this decision must be “audited” as to its appropriateness then maybe the person does not have the appropriate capability of being in the CEO position.
The current Chair of Halton Police needs to realize that indeed errors in judgment do leave a legacy. Judgments by the most senior person must be wise in the context and set the example to inspire others. We expect Board of Directors and Board Chairs to understand this imperative.
Fay Booker is principal of Booker & Associates, a consulting firm focused on promoting excellence in good governance and enterprise risk management.