Thursday, September 11, 2008

Respect is a Two-Way Street

We recently had the opportunity to ask questions of our senior leadership. With nearly everyone in our command seated in a large auditorium, it is intimidating to stand, state your name and workplace, then coherently state your question.

Several people stood and asked their questions and were answered politely with every response staying on message. Evidently, this senior leader had extensive media training and, as my husband remarked, didn't get this high by being stupid or making stupid comments.

At least, until I stood and asked my question. This senior leader look over my shoulder at someone then stared directly at me. "I see your director looks like he's sucking on a lemon," he said. He added, "And it's not a sweet lemon." He said a few more words about this lemon and my director's facial expressions, then started comparing our workplace and mission to our mainland counterparts who are also somewhat geographically isolated.

While my intent was certainly not to embarrass this official nor to make life difficult for myself, it served only to indicate the level of intimidation that is present in this type of environment and it also served to illustrate that these cattle calls require attendees to ask only those questions that are bland and inoffensive.

How much simpler would it have been to respond, "You know, that is an interesting question. I don't know the answer, but I will definitely look into it. Thank you for asking." I would have considered him to be a gracious and thoughtful leader who honestly and sincerely valued my input.

In this exchange, I lost face with my director for embarrassing him and I damaged my own credibility with my peers. On the other hand, this senior leader lost substantially more in the ridiculous comparisons between Guam, 29 Palms, Oak Harbor, and Lemoore. If a patient is taken to anyone of those hospitals and requires more comprehensive treatment, the patient can always be medevac'd, just as a patient can be medevac'd from Guam. But it takes at least 4 hours to fly to Okinawa and 7 1/2 hours to Hawaii...providing the patient and the airplane are ready to go right that minute. From 29 Palms you could be in Los Angeles or San Diego in considerably less than 7 1/2 hours...and you don't have to worry about altitude either.

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