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Monday, February 12, 2018

Unintended Fallout

A few days ago I interviewed Albert Erisman on his book, The Accidental Executive. Erisman was himself an executive with Boeing and currently serves as the executive in residence for the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. Al uses the biblical story of Joseph to offer lessons for those in modern settings of business, government, and education. A good part of the book of Genesis focuses on the life of Jacob’s famous son.

Joseph did have a remarkable life. Get past the coat of many colors and you hear how his own brothers sold him into slavery. He later is put in prison unfairly. Then he rises to the rank of CEO for food distribution in Egypt. It would make a great story today in Forbes or Fortune magazine.

In an odd twist, Joseph also faced sexual harassment. You can read the account in Genesis 39. In brief, Joseph was in the employ of Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. Potiphar saw that God was with Joseph and, thus, put him in charge of all that he had.

It worked out well for both parties. Success flowed and Joseph’s influence grew. Not only was he capable, he was a very handsome man. And Potiphar’s wife took notice—propositioning him several times. Joseph rejected her advances. But one time, while no one else was present, Potiphar’s wife grabbed for Joseph’s garment—and he fled. The woman lied and accused Joseph of attempting to violate her. His life was ruined. Temporarily. Again, the story of Joseph is filled with intrigue.

Rare is the man who would be tempted by a willing woman (who likely was quite beautiful)—and resist. But Joseph was a man of integrity. A good name was his trademark. And The Accidental Executive is a good read!

Toward the end of my conversation with Al Erisman, I brought up a recent item from the aforementioned Fortune magazine. It’s titled, “After #MeToo, Men are Uncomfortable Mentoring Women.” It raises the difficult challenge in the modern workplace raised by charges of sexual harassment. (Article link below.)

New research reveals that with the steady media coverage of workplace harassment, male managers are three times as likely to say they are uncomfortable mentoring women. And twice as uncomfortable working alone with a woman. Add to those statistics these findings: “Senior men were 3.5 times more likely to hesitate having a work dinner with a junior female colleague than a male one–and five times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior woman.”

Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook and founder of Her LeanIn group helped fund the survey completed through Survey Monkey. And she’s not happy with the results, noting that men’s unwillingness to mentor female colleagues works against women by decreasing their opportunities.

Al Erisman believes she is right. Since men hold a majority of positions in senior and managerial leadership roles, their mentorship is of great potential value. To give that up denies much to an organization as well as to the individual woman.

To be honest, I completely understand why male leaders would react as they have. I just completed two hours of workplace harassment training as required by our company. Hearing the vast and varied ways that individuals and companies become liable for neglecting the issue—even perceived abuses—it’s enough to scare any reasonable mind. And should be enough to send off warning bells.

What should a male business leader do? Look at the life of Joseph. Determine, as he did, that your integrity is your first priority. Set parameters around meeting privately or creating real or perceived risk situations and avoid them. And then do your job by helping your team members grow like a responsible leader should.

The measure of your male leadership is directly related to how your ethics measure up.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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