“Salute the Rank -Not the Wo/Man “

Leadership Lessons from HBO series Band of Brothers – Part 2

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Captain Sobol refuses to salute Major Dick Winters, who used to be his subordinate.

What is your reaction when you must work with a boss who you know is a lowdown, dirty, unprincipled, canine? (I would never call a person a dog!) They may not have done anything to you personally, but you know enough not to trust them as far as you can throw them. Their actions have been reprehensible. This person is a gutter fighter, but you know how to tangle in the mud with the best of them.

It’s not like anyone would blame you for calling them out in front of the team for being a dirtbag. You would just be saying what everyone else is thinking, anyway. But the cost…the cost would follow you far beyond the present circumstance and burrow into your soul deeper than your insults penetrated theirs. Let me keep it real: I’ve worked for people who were not worthy of my respect. I’ve walked above the fray and I’ve tangled in the mud. I’ve been blessed to have been “blessed out” by mentors who taught me to check my reactions. I’ve also had, on rare occasion, disrespectful team members and I had to learn to confront them without tussling on the floor in those instances, as well. The struggle is real!

Can you really “respect the rank” when the person in that position is despicable?

Respecting at the “rank” may seem oppressive, at first. Certainly there are managers who make it oppressive, throwing their titles around. People whose only real power is positional have to lead via their title because they cannot command the kind of respect that instrinsically motivates people to follow them. In addition to insecure people in positional power, there are the bullies, the harassers and tyrants. These are people who, it seems, stay up late at night looking for ways to demean their staff by morning. Yet, you are expected to still show up to work on time, do your very best work, sometimes go above and beyond while they brag about your achievements as though they were their own.

So, H O W are we to respect their rank??

What does that mean, practically?

  • Respect your own rank – Elevate the “conversation” by behaving the opposite way from how yours boss might expect. By reacting according to your own, rather than to their, standards, you automatically change the game, even if only psychologically. Don’t give into office gossip, “triangling” or and backbiting the boss. Be direct.
  • Assert and use your rights – One of the worst things that can happen is if, like a battered spouse, you minimize , excuse or internalize the verbal or mental abuse that is dished out. There are labor laws that cover abuse of authority, workplace harassment and creating or permitting a hostile work environment. Seek legal remedy on and off-site, if necessary, after first consulting HR or the EEOC office at your company. Let them do the scrappy fighting for you as you walk with your head held high.
  • Examine your options – Do you want to stick it out working for someone so disagreeable, seek a lateral move, a step up or step out the door? Remember, you always have options. I am not delusional; If you have no other means of income and have obligations that preclude you from leaving, it may not feel like you have a choice. But even difficult circumstances 1) will not be forever and 2) do not have to cause you to lower yourself to the level of the boss. I think of the poignant situation portrayed in the movie “Life is Beautiful” about a family imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp and how the father chose to create a beautiful fantasy world for his young son by making survival part of a “game”. His character, like millions of real-life concentration camp survivors, chose how to respond to the horrific injustice forced upon him by choosing his response, even up to his death. You might not be able to leave the job just yet, but you can kick that boss out of your headspace.

What if your rank is disrespected by those who report to you directly or indirectly?

If you have been promoted to a position above your long-time colleagues, your appointment may not go over so well with those who may think they deserved your promotion. Establish at the very beginning of your tenure that you will hold everyone accountable to the same expectations of decorum that your office established. Acknowledge the initial awkwardness of this change of roles and boundaries or limitations of their new relationships. It does not mean you can no longer socialize with them, but perhaps not in the same way as before.

Confront the behavior immediately. As in the video clip, you cannot allow that type of insubordination. Assuming you already pre-established or reestablished these expectations, be specific about the violation in question and refer to them as you weigh possible disciplinary responses. Protect yourself by having these expectations as well as the documented misbehavior in writing. Be explicit. The tone of the conversation you may have with an out-of-line worker may range from cordial to somber. Weigh it according to the egregiousness, frequency, and intent of the occurrence. Always attempt to use these corrections as developmental opportunities for growth. Then, document the conversation including the specific offense and behavioral expectations going forward. If you have an employee who still refuses to abide by your leadership, transition them out the door.

When it comes to how we, as leaders or aspiring leaders, respect or fail to respect one another, the stakes are higher than just being good role models. For years now, we’ve been watching the disrespect and verbal volleys between national leaders play out in front of the whole world. Lies and petty insults hurled like we were all trapped in a sandbox with a petulant child. It has cost lives and brought down the stature of a nation.

A role, a title, is so much more than the person who embodies it. But one civil act at a time can restore dignity to the rank as well as our individual and collective souls.

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