Reigniting Responsibility

Winston Churchill once said, "The price of greatness is responsibility." Many people gravitate toward leadership or supervisory positions for the "greatness" they think it will offer. Few embrace the true responsibility that comes with that greatness.


Winston Churchill once said, "The price of greatness is responsibility." Many people gravitate toward leadership or supervisory positions for the "greatness" they think it will offer. Few embrace the true responsibility that comes with that greatness. Personal responsibility is becoming more...


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Admit When You're Wrong

Now let's contrast their reaction to that of Exxon. In March 1989, an Exxon oil tanker spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound. The crew master had been drinking; a crew member was tired, overworked and could not properly maneuver the ship; there was an inadequate number of trained crew members; and the ship contained inadequate equipment. Exxon was 100% at fault and it would seem to be a no-brainer to step up immediately and assume responsibility. But unfortunately, that is not what happened.

When initially asked by the press about the incident, the first response of Exxon executives was "No comment." This caused public outrage and an assumption that the company was trying to minimize the incident, cover it up or hide something. While Johnson & Johnson came forward immediately to address their crisis, Exxon dragged its feet trying to formulate a plan for damage control on the public relations side. Lawrence Rawl, the chairman of Exxon, did not fly to Alaska until two weeks after the spill occurred.

Exxon was sued and ordered to pay $5 billion in punitive damages in 1994 on behalf of thousands of fishermen and others affected by the spill. Exxon appealed and the award was cut in half and then reduced again to $500 million in 2008 as the case dragged on for over 20 years! When you minimize your mistakes, people want to maximize them.

Take responsibility, folks! And now that I have picked on management to set the role-model example of stepping up and taking responsibility, let me pick on labor too. If you break the rules, make a mistake or screw up, step up and admit it. Don't hide behind your union rep or look to someone to get you off the hook. Your union rep is there to make sure due process is followed, not to get you off the hook or get you a slap on the wrist when you deserve time off without pay. When you fight the discipline you deserve, management wants to throw the book at you. Part of this results when the union wants to "negotiate" discipline and have it lowered.

Don't get me wrong, if you show up late to work for the first time and management wants to terminate you for it, then it's time to fight. That's why the union is there to protect you. Or if you are being accused of something you didn't do and the department is trying to frame you because someone doesn't like you, by all means get the force of the union behind you. But when you got busted for a DUI and the department wants substantial discipline or termination (justifiably so), and you have the union fighting to stop the discipline, you are not taking responsibility!

Legal Vs. Ethical

The number-one cause of low morale in departments all over the United States is having to drag around dead-weight firefighters that no one will discipline. Or having to continue to work with someone who needs substantial discipline or termination, but the union fought it and got the person off the hook. It makes the responsible, ethical firefighters want to give up. This is one of the factors that cause major burnout in the fire service and it has to stop. The union needs to protect all of its members by ensuring firefighters do get disciplined when they need it. Otherwise, you are putting crew and public safety at risk. I met a union president who told me, "We support our company officers and chief officers when discipline needs to take place. We tell our firefighters that we are here to make sure you are treated fairly, but if you did it, you step up and own it and take the discipline." I was impressed! The labor/management relations in that department were amazingly positive and there was not a prevailing "us-against-them" mentality.