By Eugene Atherton
I remember a promotional interview for Warden in our correctional system. I suggested that effective leaders encourage successful relationships among staff in order to achieve success. When asked how that could be done, I answered, "One relationship at time." Now, at the time I was not sure of the meaning of the statement. It sounded right…and I got the job.
Since then I have given considerable thought to the idea. My conclusion is this: If you get it right with one person at the work place, it means you both feel very comfortable with one another. You trust each other and immediately begin to experience an extremely productive and rewarding professional relationship. It is not as easy as it sounds.
However, once you get it right, it is entirely possible you will have the same experience with many others. You have to commit. Once others have experienced the synergy as a result of the experience, everyone involved begins to want the same experience with others. It is contagious. It can create a "tipping point" that changes your correctional organization in numerous ways. Where distrust, divisiveness, and angry conflict existed, people begin to dialogue and work together in ways never thought possible to meet the challenges of corrections. For most organizations, this experience is a huge resource waiting to happen.
Too often correctional leaders feel entitled to overlook relationships in favor of task accomplishment. It comes to the point where the task is always more important than the relationship and others are expected to endure. In fact, "When it matters most, we are often at our worst behavior." Truly successful correctional leaders know when it is time to stop and create the atmosphere that sustains relationships, making it safe to dialogue and engage.
Getting there can be tough, but it can start with one individual that perseveres by displaying the philosophy and skills that keeps the door open to effective relationships. These skills can be learned. That person can be you. You in your relationship with others can make current, seemingly insurmountable challenges be exciting opportunities for shaping the future of corrections.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, 1989, Fireside Publications, Habit Seven Video "Sharpening the Saw".
The Tipping Point - How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell, 2000, Back Bay Books/Little, Brown, and Company.
Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High, 2002, Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler, page 232, McGraw-Hill.