Thursday, September 12, 2013

New series, which I promise I will write.

I am working on a new series at the suggestion of my beautiful wife, the love of my life.  See, in my new job as an instructor of Captains, there are lots of things that I teach, but there are lots of things that I don't have time to cover.  So I'm writing a new series entitled

So here goes....
UPDATED AS OF 13 SEPTEMBER (thanks to one of my students). 
I’ve recently seen a lot of angst among some junior leaders in my organization (and elsewhere) about sexual assault/harassment and how to deal with it in the workplace.  (Frankly, the Army itself is worried about this and it has become a front-running issue among the DoD senior leadership.  See here and here and here.)
So because of this, I’ve had a lot of informal, off-line conversations with individuals and little groups, but I thought I’d put something out in the world for mass consumption.  This is what I have done, and may not work for everyone, but it has worked so far for everyone I’ve talked to, so there it is.
Some ground parameters here:  I am going to speak from my experiences as a heterosexual man married to a civilian woman.  This same advice will work for women or homosexuals too, so have at it.  Also, and this is key, THERE ARE ALWAYS GOING TO BE RUMORS.  Don’t forget that- you can’t control the rumors at all.  They are a constant.
In my 16 years of service, I have always worked in a co-ed army.  Most of that time, I’ve been in a leadership role, and have always had female subordinates, peers, and bosses.  The big question that gets asked is “How do I maintain a professional relationship with all these people while avoiding the sexual politics and rumor mill that are inevitable parts of the co-ed Army workplace?” (That’s loosely translated from “WTF, man?  Why is it like this?”)  And it’s a real issue, and requires some thought AHEAD OF TIME to avoid getting in trouble.
So… you’re a good-looking officer, you’re put in charge of an organization (a staff section, platoon, company, etc. etc).  Women are BOUND to throw themseleves at you, right?  After all, you’re in a position of power, and we all know that no one can resist a powerful person in a uniform, right?  And let’s be real here.   Some of your Soldiers are HAWT.  (They get hotter the longer you’re deployed, too).  And you’re married, and we all know that ring is a magnet for a certain “type” of woman, too, right?  It’s a fraught landscape… a veritable minefield of potential rapes or accusations of impropriety that are all career-killers, relationship-killers, and causes of long arguments with your wife.  (NOTE:  I AM JOKING.  I SOMETIMES EXAGGERATE TO COMIC EFFECT.)
Let’s add to this that you, as an Army leader, are going to HAVE to know a lot of intimate details about your subordinates.  I’m talking medical information (commanders are partially exempt from HIPAA), personal information about relationships, finances, fitness, everything.  That’s a lot of power and influence, and a lot of potentially intimate conversations with emotionally fragile female subordinates. 

Let's further add that, as an officer, you're automatically in an unequal position.  Any "relationship" anyone tries to establish with you is colored by the rank structure.  Whether the encounter is specifically restricted by Army and DoD regulation (like officer/enlisted relationships), or officer/officer where one is subordinate to the other, the higher-ranking person is ALWAYS in control and ALWAYS at fault.  Whether this reflects reality or not is immaterial-- but most of the time, it is the truth.
And oh, yeah.  Remember what I said about rumors?  Well, they’re going to start coming after your VERY FIRST private conversation or counseling session with a female subordinate.  It’s gonna happen- you can’t change it.  What you CAN do is mitigate your risk.  There are some very specific steps to take for this.

Keep in mind, this is baseline advice.  As you learn your organization, you will of course start to understand the personalities involved, the risks present (or not present) in your organization, and you will be able to adjust off of this template.  This, however, is a reflection of the advice I got as a new commander, and it's the advice I give to everyone going into command.  So here it is:
1.        Educate yourself.  You have to know all of the Army policies on sexual assault/harassment, equal opportunity, and courses of redress for Soldiers.  You have to know all of the available resources that a Soldier can take advantage of.  You have to understand the various roles and levels of confidentiality and support that each organization provide.  YOU HAVE TO KNOW THIS COLD.  And you have to be absolutely willing and ready to pass the buck to one of these organizations.  You’re not an expert- they are.  Let them be the experts.
2.        Avoid being alone with a female when there could be even a HINT of impropriety.  I’m talking about counselings, advice, reprimands, everything.  Someone else should know about this, or you should have another female present (preferably higher ranking than the person with whom you’re having the conversation), but don’t be alone.  Or at least leave the door open.
3.       Never be the highest ranking person to know about something.  Your boss should be able to underwrite your decisions, but he/she can’t if they don’t know about them.
4.       Have a plan to control the conversation and the environment.  This needs to be thought of in advance, and war-gamed out so that even if you’re taken by surprise by a Soldier with an immediate problem, you can still work through your plan.  When things spiral out of control is when you allow the Soldier to control the conversation and environment.  The terrain always has to be either neutral or advantageous to YOU, not them.  So your office or the hood of your HMMWV is good, but not her quarters or yours.  Under a tree outside is good, but alone inside an empty office is not.  Figure this out ahead of time, though, so you don’t have to stress about it.

      (A quick example on this one:  I had the wife of one of my Soldiers drop by my office to air some grievances, and during the conversation, she felt the need to expound to me the various deficiencies in her sex life, her rocky relationship with her husband, her childhood, and basically everything that was bothering her right then.  She ended up in tears and holding on to me -- spiraled out of control -- and I had to have my 1SG and orderly room NCOIC help me disengage.)
5.       Remember:  Perception is Reality.  What people see is going to color the rumors they start, and that’s going to influence what gets around to your Soldiers, your chain of command, and your wife.
The key here is to behave in such a way that, when the rumors inevitably start, they are laughable.  This is the only way to ensure a healthy, happy relationship with your family and to keep your name in the clear.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I lie the thought process in your article. I have always been a proponent of a process of 1) Visualization, 2) Proper planning, 3) Flawless excecution, 3) Constant evaluation and 4) Adjustments when necessary to get back to the vision.
Anything short of this will create chaos and trouble. Obviously, knowing the game rules is imperative. Great article.