Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Creating Confidence & The Long Island Murder

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On Long Island, in a neighborhood not all that far from NYC, there was a murder this month. In fact it was not so much of a murder as it was an old style lynching carried out by those with a mob mentality, a gang of high school boys who took sport in torturing their fellow human beings, viewing it as a pleasurable activity. They routinely hunted Latinos, shooting them with BB guns, jumping them and punching them as they drove around. This time, their sport led to the fatal stabbing and the death of an Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, simply because he was Latino and easy prey. NYC that bastion of liberalism, where we are supposed to be more tolerant of people’s differences, where we take pride in our live-and-let-live attitude regarding how people live their lives, how could something like this happen here? It could happen anywhere. But that is not an excuse as much as it is a warning. As terrible as that crime was, another crime is now being committed and that crime is a failure of leadership in a time of crisis.    

Nothing tests leadership more than crisis. Crisis represents an opportunity for leadership to shine or for it to fail miserably. Sometimes, but not always, leaders can simply muddle through, surviving the crisis simply because the severity of the issues lessen and not because of any direct actions they take. Suffolk County, where this crime took place, is run by a form of government that has a country executive, Steve Levy. Mr. Levy is of the opinion that the blame for the crime rests partly with the family, friends and acquaintances of the gang members for allowing them to pursue their sport. For him, blame rests with others and not with those in authority. But what created the atmosphere whereby this pastime was viewed as an acceptable sport?  Mr. Levy has a record of immigration enforcement, and in fact tried to use the local police to enforce federal immigration laws. The effect on the immigrants both legal and illegal was to turn them into victims with no options of redress. They could not go to the police, for they would immediately be suspected of being criminals themselves. They became victims without a voice. The evidence for this is clear, as now that the murder has been committed, a tidal wave of unreported crimes against the immigrant community is now being reported.

That along with other policies gave the gang a green light and set the stage for a lack of confidence within the immigrant community that officials would be there to protect rather than harm. It made officials including the police force assume roles similar to those that officials and police took as Europe lurched toward WWII, herding up the “undesirables”. In that kind of environment everyone is guilty rather than innocent and with unnecessary mass edicts, induced fear is the order of the day. Suffolk County under the leadership of Mr. Levy has an opportunity to break with the past and to create confidence in the system from the perspective of community members, create confidence in leadership, and create confidence that the future will be better than the past. How might they go about this?      

John F. Kennedy in a cold war speech in Berlin proclaimed, “…All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’” Kennedy’s proclamation, “I am a Berliner” demonstrated his solidarity and empathy with the people of Berlin who were being isolated by the Soviet blockade of the city. His speech was aimed at both the Soviets to demonstrate his resolve but also at the citizens of Berlin to increase their confidence that they would not simply be left to their own devices, but rather that we all stood together with them. But words are words, and action is action, Kennedy followed up his words with concrete actions that demonstrated to the people of Berlin that he meant what he said and that the confidence that he asked them to have was justified. Latinos who are hunted for sport in Suffolk County, New York? What is wrong with us? What is wrong with the system that we have let evolve to the point where such a thing could happen? Is it not too much to ask all of us to join with the Latino community and proclaim “Soy un Latino”? But now we need to follow up those words with deeds. The confidence of the Latino community and of every other minority community in Suffolk County has been shredded. How can it be put back together?

(There is an urban legend that says that due to a coincidence of terms, that Kennedy when addressing the crowd in Berlin actually said, “I am a jelly donut”, as a Berliner was the name of a popular breakfast pastry. Upon verification and with some closer inspection, given the context, this does not seem accurate, but rather some in the media at the time simply having fun with a play on words. Even in the face of extreme anxiety and worry over the Soviet blockade there was humor.)

Creating Confidence, is a process that looks at how entities and individuals, (e.g. public, private, governmental, community, NGO’s, teachers, physicians, etc.) can create confidence within the populations with which they interact. Creating Confidence also provides a framework whereby crises of confidence can be addressed and remedied. Creating Confidence is strongly linked to the notions regarding how to increase the perception that individuals have regarding their efficacy, doing away with responses that arise from a learned helplessness response and increasing feelings of empowerment, and an internal locus of control among people. Creating Confidence requires change at both the institutional level, creating well regarded processes and products that are aligned with stated intentions and those that are aligned with the issues of the day, and change at the personal level, creating a sense of ability on the part of the individual to be able to deal with the situation and an avenue for redress should the existing system be felt to be inadequate.

On a generic level, the Creating Confidence framework:

 

Internal External
Institutional/Organizational Improving internal processes and procedures, building a track record of success, having checks and balances in place, being well-run and effective Reflecting current issues and needs, being seen in a  positive frame, having products and/or services that are needed/helpful, being better than the alternatives
Personal Enabling individuals to thrive and prosper within the system/institution/organization, educating them on how to use the available resources, providing enabling structure and processes, creating a sense of fairness and equality   Providing alternative pathways, should institution/system path be seen as failing, an ombudsman or escalation process, transparency to the individual but also to the larger public enabling media and watchdog scrutiny

The impact of Creating Confidence is enhanced by thinking of what actions should be taken within this structured framework. In the case of the county executive, confidence can be thought of as having 2 dimensions, an institutional or systemic dimension and a personal dimension, each of those having an internal and external component.

 Issues to be addressed potentially within Suffolk County within this framework include:    

Organizational Internal – eliminate bureaucracy, do away with any non-responsive legacy systems, create an empathetic system one that does away with as much of the power inequality between the groups as possibly, ensure that disciplinary actions are taken on staff who violate agreed upon standards and regulation, create a well-run efficient system and establish a track record of fairness, proper treatment and protection for all community members. Leaders must demonstrate:

  • Competence – being clear about the mission of the organization, setting direction, being seen as a leader, being viewed as competent and completing what needs to be done
  • Compassion – an empathic response, displaying a genuine concern for people and what they are going through
  • Collaboration – seeking and obtaining the cooperation of all relevant parties in order to help each other and the organization, this is enabled by equalizing power relationships between the groups
  • Communication – disseminating relevant and accurate information, even if it means admitting that some things are unknown, you cannot over-communicate
  • Contribution Recognition – giving credit to those who help, sacrifice and contribute

(The 5 C’s first appeared in Saltzman, Reichman and Hyland, Leading the Organization in Times of Catastrophe, October, 2001)

Organizational External – assure that they processes and procedures in place are reflective of the current challenges facing the community, involve the community, make them part of the solution, listen.

Personal Internal – educate people on how the system works and how to make use of the normal administrative processes within the system, establish strong communications with the individuals within the community, and explain how the system will operate in a fair and equitable manner at the individual level.

Personal External – create alternatives for the individual, an escalation or ombudsman process, outside of the normal channels for use when people feel that the system is failing them.

Case Study: If you examine the arguments being made on how to fix the current economic crisis in a speech made by Barak Obama, the following pattern emerges:

Premise: “The economic crisis we face is the worst since the Great Depression… …millions of Americans will open up their 401(k) statements this week and see that so much of their hard-earned savings have disappeared.  …The credit crisis has left businesses large and small unable to get loans, which means they can’t buy new equipment, or hire new workers, or even make payroll for the workers they have…760,000 workers have lost their jobs this year…”

Obama Speech on Fixing the Economy Internal External
Institutional/Organizational “…it will take a new direction. It will take new leadership in Washington. It will take a real change in the policies and politics of the last eight years.”

 

“..I realize you’re cynical and fed up with politics. I understand that you’re disappointed and even angry with your leaders.”

 

“We need to pass an economic rescue plan for the middle-class and we need to do it now. Today I’m proposing a number of steps that we should take immediately to stabilize our financial system, provide relief to families and communities, and help struggling homeowners.”

“We’re still home to innovation and technology, colleges and universities that are the envy of the world. Some of the biggest ideas in history have come from our small businesses and our research facilities.”

 

“…create the jobs of tomorrow by unlocking the drive, and ingenuity, and innovation of the American people.”

 

“…America needs to end our dependence on foreign oil.”

Personal “…We’ll ensure every child can compete in the global economy by recruiting an army of new teachers and making college affordable for anyone who wants to go.”

 

“…extend and expand unemployment benefits to those Americans who have lost their jobs and are having a harder time finding new ones in this weak economy.”

“We’ll create five million new, high-wage jobs by investing in the renewable sources of energy that will eliminate the oil we currently import from the Middle East in ten years, and we’ll create two million jobs by rebuilding our crumbling roads, schools and bridges.”

Obama’s Conclusion: “…We can do this if we come together, if we have confidence in ourselves and each other, if we look beyond the darkness of the day to the bright light of hope that lies ahead…”

While I did not sort the whole speech due to space limitations, you can certainly see that he covered the Creating Confidence bases.

Confidence can be created or restored, by working through in a systematic fashion and addressing those issues that created the crisis of confidence. Leadership has a critical role to play in this respect for they are the ones who are supposed to have their gaze to the horizon, seeing issues and challenges before the boat of confidence hits the shoals. Institutions and organizations in general can thrive or fail depending on the confidence levels that their citizens, customers, investors, employees, suppliers, members and others have in their ability to provide and the perception of the need for the services or products for which they came into existence.

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