Friday, July 17, 2009

leaders and the law

I am at a workshop entitled "Higher Education Legal Issues Executive Institute" sponsored by NCHERM in which we are looking at a variety of cases from the past year which impact (no surprise) higher education. It has been a learning experience for me - I have heard more acronyms than I care to know about, and am realizing just how perilous it is to be a part of any institution these days.

The one take away so far is that institutions need to write policy & procedure...need to have that policy & procedure reviewed by experts...need to train its workers in policy & procedure...need to FOLLOW policy & procedure as called for...need to document that policy & procedure were followed...and need to update policy & procedure on a regular basis. So what might that have to do with leadership?

I think that many people in leadership positions think that if they just do the right thing, everything will turn out right. Isn't that what we were told as children,to just do the right thing. It sounds so sounds so sounds so sounds so - RIGHT!

BUT - this is not always the case. You know many people who did the right thing and were still sued by an offended party. As hard as we try to be fair, to be just, to be upfront, and to be RIGHT, people will still try to find ways to get to us. So what are we to do?

A few thoughts:
  1. be sure that there are adequate (more than adequate) policies & procedures in place for your institution. If you do not have the time or personnel to get after this task - outsource!
  2. take time to document your discussions and actions (especially those that are difficult and that you believe could lead to allegations in the future)
  3. when talking or writing about difficult subjects, PAUSE before you go forward - and then say or write as little as possible.
  4. don't say anything stupid! In tense situations, it is easy to get angry or upset and to say things that could come back to haunt you and/or your institution (worse yet, sending an email with something stupid in it)
  5. institute mandatory training for all employees on policy & procedure - and be sure they follow them and document their actions. The first questions that should be asked when you hear about an incident at your institution should be 1) "were the policies and procedures followed?" and 2) "were the actions documented?"
  6. remember that you are the representative of the institution. What you say and do can harm the institution in ways you may not even think about.

The leader of the seminar kept reminding us that while these are all scary incidents, in no way should we stop acting. Don't be afraid to fire bad personnel...don't be afraid to engage in new ventures...don't be afraid to try new ideas...don't be afraid to terminate contracts. BUT have policies & procedures in place as to how these actions will be carried out - then train your people - then be sure the policies & procedures are followed. Then you can confidently lead your institution and your people.

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