Saturday, October 3, 2009

About a week ago I was talking with a senior executive in relation to possible legal action being taken against one of their managers. The response amazed me. “Oh no,” she told me, “an apology isn’t on the cards.” There was a clear implication that for the manager to apologise would mean a loss of face and might undermine her authority.

One key sign of unconditional respect is the willingness to apologise.

A Sydney author, Anne Miles, (Email: ) has recently written a book entitled “Rules of Acceptable Behaviour”. In this she talks of “toxic” behaviour rather than abusive behaviour because she is trying to make the point that much of what we do has, either wittingly or unwittingly, a toxic effect on those with whom we interact. She sets out patterns of behaviour that we can use in order to avoid toxic behaviour.

Unconditional respect and toxic behaviour are mutually incompatible. A person exhibiting toxic behaviour is totally lacking in unconditional respect. A person exhibiting unconditional respect cannot behave in a toxic manner.

The Executive who I was helping work through the issue of possible legal action against one of her managers, was more concerned with what she considered to be good order and authority—the organisational hierarchy and power structure—than she was in providing an apology as part of the process of removing toxic waste.

As is well known, the problem with toxic material is the long term effects that sometimes only become apparent years after the toxic event occurred—the current problems relating to asbestos are but one example. I believe that toxic behaviour is no different.

As leaders we need to be aware of what we are doing and the possible impact this might have on our followers at some undefined future time. There is no excuse for toxic behaviour—that it may be unintended is totally immaterial.

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