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December 25, 2006
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

The Great Humiliators

The great humiliators are not very great at all. They are elected or appointed officials who abuse the trust placed in them by the voters or by the city or county commissions who have allowed them the privilege of public service. They are the officials who choose a style of loud and often public attacks that berate others. This is not the style of a leader in a modern public administration environment.

The HR Doctor previously wrote an article entitled “Every Manager a Retention Manager.” The objective of the article was to point out that a critical part of the success of the individuals charged with an organization’s leadership is to behave and perform in a way which generates the loyalty and support of others in order to achieve positive results.

Great leaders are really “servant leaders.” They know their own success is very much a factor of the passionate articulation of the vision and behavior that lead others to enlist in the cause of making the vision a reality. In a highly competitive employment environment, one filled with great and growing liabilities, this means being the kind of boss that an employee can look up to and wants to follow.

Every manager is truly a retention manager if she or he is to be successful. Keeping great staff members in the organization and wanting to excel is, if not “job one,” certainly among the very top measures for success.

A fine city manager named John P. Kelly, who practices what he and the HR Doctor both preach about leadership, wrote to me after reading my article and offered great insight. He described these humiliators as people with no real concept of leadership, who think that berating defenseless staff is a way to prove their worth. He went on to correctly state that these officials are in serious need of education, if not also counseling, about the devastating impact that their public flogging has on any staff member as well as on the overall morale and effectiveness of every staff person.

When the conduct of someone in a leadership position is abusive and uncivil toward colleagues or members of the public, there is a great impact on the speed and the quality of the product delivered by the staff. This has a chilling effect, often not recognized or appreciated by the humiliators. As John correctly states, energy is sapped, initiative is stymied and organizational creativity is retarded.

There are important points here for consideration by both seasoned leaders at the height of their careers and new professionals in the early stages of choosing whether to embark upon a career in public service or private business. The message is the same: No manager will be anywhere nearly as successful as their potential would otherwise allow if they trip over their own conduct, driven by an overdose of ego.

Fortunately for the world, America and public service in general, the number of humiliators is rather small. There is an answer to their infection and to the harm done when they inflict their instability on others. That “treatment” is to have the courage to give the great humiliators an even greater lesson in humility. Standing up in private to the people who humiliate others often results in them leaving the courageous person alone in the future, or at least targeting another poor soul. 

The result of having the courage to stand up respectfully to the bully can be a more effective, more innovative and faster-moving public agency.

It can also allow public employees to have fewer sleepless nights. As the HR Doctor describes in his book, Don’t Walk by Something Wrong!, it is time for each of the great humiliators to undergo an “ego suction!”

The HR Doctor wishes you all the best.

Phil Rosenberg

The HR Doctor • 


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