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August 21, 2006
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

Head Butt or Butt Head

A huge number of people on the planet, perhaps two billion, watched the final match of the 2006 World Cup - approximately the same number of people who regularly read the HR Doctor articles.

These spectators included the HR Doctor who is generally not motivated to spend much time watching extremely well-paid persons, with their own fleets of publicity agents, endorsement contract negotiators and sports attorneys, do what they do compared to struggling nurses, teachers, and other public servants. Does that sound like whining, or perhaps salary jealousy? I hope not.

Nonetheless, this final match between France and Italy featured brilliant event management by scores of thousands of German organizers and participants. There was a huge amount of spirit and positive international relations demonstrated throughout the whole tournament.

However, this final game will likely always be remembered for the serious head-butting issue in which the French superstar, Zinedine Zidane, placed his rather powerful head squarely into the chest of the Italian player Marco Materazzi.

As most members of our species already know, that delightful demonstration of proper conduct and etiquette resulted in his being removed from the game, and France’s going on to ultimately lose the game and the World Cup in a "shoot out."

I am sure what followed was Mr. Zidane quickly having his head examined - in more ways than one.

However, what really happened involved the Superstar de France arguing that he was the real victim of insults hurled at him from the mouth, rather than the head or the cleats, of the Italian player. The insults were aimed at his beloved mother as well as his sister. As we all know, the obvious response by a well-trained and experienced world superstar was to physically attack his opponent.

Either Zidane was a victim of brutal words or was himself a workplace bully. This is something that various lawyers and commentators, not to mention the president of France and the prime minister of Italy, will no doubt debate and remember for a long time. What occurred, however, was an example of behavior all too common in employee relations, and indeed, human relations around the world.

There seems to be an inverse correlation between the amount of arrogance and entitlement that a person feels and the amount of emotional intelligence they possess. Emotional intelligence refers to how well a person manages their emotional responses to match the appropriateness or propriety of circumstances. A police officer with badge, weapon, backup, strong union labor contract and a general sense of entitlement may demonstrate poor emotional intelligence when he chooses to show how powerful he may be using excessive force during a routine traffic stop, for example. The more arrogant pride or hubris in an individual, the less likely he or she is to be able or willing to see the importance of humility and accepting personal responsibility when managing their own behavior.

Whether you believe that what occurred at the World Cup final match was a head butt or the actions of a "butt head" is not really the subject of this article. What is, however, is the importance of building human resource decisions around key behavioral points. Before discussing some of those points, please know that human resources decision-making is the province of not just the human resources department, but of every manager and of every employee. Each has a responsibility to behave and perform in a job-related and respectful manner. This respect imperative is, or should be, the trade off in government agencies for the receipt of many vested rights and vested benefits.

If decisions such as hiring, promotion, discipline or raises are made based upon characteristics that are not job-related, such as race or gender, the result may be a failure of emotional intelligence, which will manifest itself later in poor employee behavior or performance hurting the organization. Conversely, when selection and testing, as well as performance evaluations and subsequent rewards like promotions and salary increases, are based upon the maturity of judgment demonstrated by the employees under different circumstances, the result is much better public service and less organizational liability.

Maturity of judgment does not relate to maturity of age, nor is it a factor of a person’s religion or race, national origin, disability or sexual orientation. Rather, it is a factor of the extent to which reason, respect and responsibility overpowers or fails to overpower hormones - especially testosterone.

As the HR Doctor recently pointed out in a June 5 County News article entitled "Firing Yourself," serious failures are much more likely to be the result of behavior or emotional failures rather than technical failures. Often it is for this reason that when you enter a room full of HR professionals and shout out the word "firefighter," the reaction will tend to be the same throughout the country. There will be a lot of head nodding and discussions about the latest incidents of poor behavior occurring at the fire station.

This victory of testosterone over mature judgment has the potential to overshadow all of the brilliant, brave and self-sacrificing work done by firefighters and many others in public service.

As managers and professionals in every area of the public service, especially in public safety, where the 24-hour shift pattern has survived as a carry over from the 19th century, maturity of a person’s judgment has to be the prime hiring and promotion criteria.

At the World Cup final match, at the Tour de France winner’s podium, at the fire station near you, or in your own family or your own personal behavior, be a truly gifted competitor inside yourself. In the competition between hormones and decent, responsible behavior, let the winner be consistently great behavior. Teach that to your colleagues at work. Teach it to your children and remember it yourself. Don’t pick up a red card from the people around you!

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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